The 1950 census must be indexed so that we can search for relatives by name, location and much, much more. You can help with this exciting project, and no special skills or background are required. Jim Ericson of FamilySearch 1950 Census Community Project explains what’s happening and how you can get involved.
Lisa: The 1950 US federal census was released by the National Archives just a short time ago on April 1 2022. But it was just a release of the digitized images of the census pages. The indexing of those records happens afterwards. It’s really the indexing that makes it possible for all of us to be able to search the records and find our families. Here to tell us about that really important indexing project. To get all this done is Jim Ericson from FamilySearch. They are heading up this project. Welcome, Jim.
Jim: Thank you, Lisa. It’s wonderful to be here with you today.
Lisa: I know you guys are so busy. You’re right on the heels of Rootstech which just wrapped up. And now we’re here with the release of the US Federal Census for 1950! Do you have somebody you’re looking forward to seeing in that census record?
Jim: Yeah, both of my parents will be there. My dad will be 20 years old. He turned 21 that year after the census. And my mom is 15, she will just have had her 15th birthday.
I know where my mom was. She was in Salt Lake City. But I have no idea where my dad was in 1950 as a 20 year old. He’d left college and I know that he had enlisted in the in the army. But I don’t know. He also worked in San Francisco for a couple of years. I don’t know if he’ll be in San Francisco, or where exactly where he would have been in 1950 when the census was taken so there’s a little mystery right there.
Lisa: Absolutely, and that’s a perfect example of why the indexing is so important, because you’ll be able to name search for him when this is done.
The History of FamilySearch
Before we jump into that indexing project, for those who maybe aren’t familiar or haven’t used FamilySearch, tell us what familysearch.org does and what it offers the genealogist.
Jim: FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization. We were founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah.
FamilySearch is more of a recent incarnation of the organization that kind of reflects when we went online, and when we started publishing CD ROMs in the 1990s.
We’ve been microfilming and digitizing records since 1938. We started a worldwide project to go and collect records from around the world. Microfilm was really the innovation that allowed us to store all those records in a library. Getting a whole bunch of books or physical records in one location was difficult.
Since then, all of our record operations are now digital. All of our records are captured digitally now. We have worldwide operations in hundreds of countries. We publish over about a billion records a year.
As a nonprofit, we partner with commercial entities who have an interest in profit, because we know that they know how to innovate. And that also helps our resources go further through partnerships with these commercial entities. The 1950 census is actually an example of that sort of a partnership. We’re working on this with Ancestry and using the resources that they have.
FamilySearch has a collaborative family tree where you can see what others know about your family. We have, like I mentioned, 10 billion records that are online. We have free resources to learn how to do family history. And we really try to just bring people wherever they are, to the experiences that can help them learn about their family.
(04:32) Lisa: It’s amazing how much it’s grown! I remember the days of the CD ROMs with the record sets that we used to order. And now so much is available for free from home. Users just need to sign up for a free account to use the website and take advantage of the records. And I love the Wiki. It’s such a wonderful treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to genealogy research
Let’s talk about the most exciting and the newest record collection, which is the 1950 census. When it was released by the National Archives did you get all the images? Does that mean instantaneous publication on familysearch.org? How did that work initially?
Jim: Well, 10 years ago, in 2012, when they released the 1940 census, we were actually waiting at the National Archives with a van and hard drives. We had to transfer all the data onto hard drives and take them to our data facility in Virginia.
This time, everything was available online. Everything was downloaded and uploaded to our servers immediately. There was high demand. So that was one of the challenges that we faced was making sure that we’re going to be able to download those images, over 6 million images is a lot of images to be able to download. And those images include records for 151 million people. So that’s a lot of information at high quality, resolution. So that was actually the first hurdle.
And since we are doing this project with Ancestry, we also have to wait for Ancestry to do the same thing and download the images, to be able to process them to create their computerized index with their own handwriting recognition technology that then comes to us. It makes it so much easier to review an index as opposed to starting with transcription from scratch. So, there are so many innovations that have taken place. But from the National Archives, the online delivery of images was one of those innovations.
Lisa: How fantastic to be able to do that online. I can imagine that speeding it up. And then you’ve got artificial intelligence, which is already impacting how we use genealogy websites, how we access digitized books, and here you are using it to help index the records.
I’d love to know kind of a comparison between the speed at which you indexed the 1940 census which I thought was pretty darn quick to how that looks for 1950.
Jim: There is a great question, and we’re still learning how this is going to play out with the 1950 census.
The history of census indexing by FamilySearch
One of the first projects that we did as FamilySearch when we were publishing, CD ROMs was the 1880 census. The 1880 census took us more than a decade to press on to CD ROM. It was a huge project! It was crowd sourced, but before the advent of the internet. It was sending packets and physical papers around and then gathering them and then creating a CD ROM.
We went from a project like that, to doing the 1940 census just over a decade later in a matter of about six months. So already the technology was just astounding because of what you’re able to do because of the internet. Now you have the artificial intelligence, the handwriting, character recognition, and then you have innovations that we’re doing with the crowdsourcing. And all of a sudden, you’re able to take those tasks that we’re all human, I guess bounded by human capabilities, and you’re now allowing the computer to do what the computer can do.
With the 1950 census, we are actually indexing or reviewing this automated index for every single field that was captured in the 1950 census. It’s way more data than we were dealing with for the 1940 census. Because of the cost and the time, we just wanted to make sure that we just had the most logically relevant fields captured, so occupation, and some of those fields were seen as extra fields. But for 1950, we recognize that we can do a lot more in terms of the experiences that we can provide and that these other entities can provide if we have a full index, so that’s one of the big innovations. It’s going really well.
When will the 1950 census index be complete?
We have a goal to get it all done by Flag Day, so that’s June 14. That will be about two months from when we really got the project going and up to speed. That just depends on how many people come and participate.
There’s more than one way to participate. We feel like we have a lot of options, and it’s more accessible than it’s ever been because of how recent (the 1950 census) is. Recognizing handwriting from 1950s is not that different from recognizing handwriting from a week ago. Things haven’t changed that dramatically. And so, it’s a really accessible experience. And these are people that everybody knows. It’s kind of fun to come in and see what you can find in those areas where your family is from.
Innovations in the 1950 Census Index
(11:07) Lisa: Exactly. You said something which I hope everybody really appreciates, which is that you indexing every field. I mean, you must have gotten excited when you heard that was really going to be possible. It’s a game changer because now you can slice and dice data in so many ways. You can look up everybody who worked on the railroad or whatever the fields are that were filled out. What do you think the impact will be of that? Will that change anything about genealogy research?
Jim: Yes, it will. And not just genealogical research but also understanding the makeup of our country in 1950. And really understanding the history of our nation because that is part of your family history is enabled by capturing those additional fields. Being able to see differences in income, differences in occupation from region to region, being able to easily see, neighborhoods.
The address for the 1950 census is similar to the 1940 census in that it’s a vertical capture down the side of the forms. So that is something that just allows people to see what’s there today, if their house is still there. These are experiences that that we’ve dreamed of but without the index it is impossible to provide that sort of an experience. And so now with the commercial entities and what we’re trying to do, you’re going to have a lot of different experiences now that are unlocked and available because of these innovations. And especially with Ancestry’s (technology) it has enabled us to do this.
Is the 1950 census available for free?
(13:06) Lisa: Since you’re partnering together, is it available at Ancestry for free as well as for FamilySearch?
Jim: Ancestry will make their own businesses decisions. But yes, initially, it’ll be available for free. They’ve opened up the 1940 census recently, and that’s been available for free. I don’t know what all their future plans are. It allows them a lot of flexibility on how to do that. Of course, we make everything we can available for free at FamilySearch.
Again, there’s going to be a lot of different experiences that are available around this record set. So, it’s exciting going all the way back to how the National Archives made it available. It’s really democratizing the records. I think their goal is to just make it accessible to as many people as possible. And then it’s these other organizations that have a vision for what they can do with those records.
Lisa: Yes, and you guys certainly had the vision around the indexing project. That’s something that is such a skill that you’ve all developed and really fine-tuned. You’ve been able to crowdsource so much of what then becomes available to everybody.
Tell folks how they can get involved in it. And I’m really interested in some of the changes. I was very excited to hear that people will be able to have, in a way a more personal indexing experience. Tell folks about that.
Jim: Something that everybody wants to do when they come in and volunteer and get involved in a project is to find their own family. That will be expedited. When the index is published and available, after it’s been reviewed, everybody’s going to have that wonderful experience. But even on the review side, we’ve made it so people can search for a specific location down to the county level, or, in some cases down to the city level. Then you can actually search for a surname, or last name within that location. Now, if your family hasn’t already been reviewed, you’ll be able to review it if it hasn’t been reviewed. That just means that it’s going to be published sooner, because progress has already been made. And then you can come back and review it.
How to make corrections to the 1950 census index
(15:42) If for some reason, the person who reviewed it did it wrong, you can still make corrections. We do corrections on FamilySearch. Ancestry does corrections on Ancestry. And we are sharing whatever corrections are made on FamilySearch with Ancestry so they can get the benefit of any corrections that are made on our website as well. So that’s terrific.
For the 1940 census we had 163,000 people come and help and get involved. And with how easy it is for 1950, we think that we’ll have well over 200,000 people who will come and want to review these names.
How to volunteer to index the 1950 census
(16:30) If you want to get involved, there are a couple different places you can go. But the easiest place to remember is familysearch.org/1950census. And on that page, there’s a lot of information. Near the top of the page there’s a big link to join the project and to come over and participate.
The project is ongoing. All the states are there, some have already been published. Come and get involved and see what you can do. It’s going very quickly, and people are really enjoying it. We’re glad that it’s along as quickly as it is.
Lisa: Volunteers can do this from home from their computer. Is there a certain minimum commitment that they have to make or a certain minimum amount of technological ability?
Jim: No. This is again one of the things that’s kind of fun. I mentioned that briefly before there’s actually more than one experience or a way to participate.
(17:42) The standard way that most people who’ve done it before want to participate is what we call the Household Review. With the household review we try to identify from the head of the house, all the members of the household or the family to the next head of the house. That can sometimes cross pages on the census forms. That is an every field review. You can review as many of those fields as you want. And then the next person can come and pick up where you left off. So that’s really fun. It does require you to be on a computer.
(18:27) There are two other types of tasks. One doesn’t require you to be on a computer. You can be on your handheld device, your smartphone. It is what we call Name Review. So, instead of reviewing all of the fields, you can download our app called Get involved. FamilySearch Get Involved is available on the iTunes Store or the Apple Store, as well as from Google, the Android store. You can download the app and you can just start looking at the images where we have the names of the people in the census. Then you can compare that with what the computer thinks it is. You can either say yes, that’s right or no, and you can actually enhance or fix what the name is. You can do hundreds of these in an hour. I’ve done it, and it’s a fun activity. It’s really engaging if you like seeing that you’re making a difference in terms of volume. It’s a really fun way to participate.
Again, the computer doesn’t always get it right. So, you have to be really careful in the review process. But it’s super easy to just look at the image and look at the index value for the name and just make sure it’s right. You don’t have to have the app though.
(20:00) So, there’s the Household Review or the Name Review. And then the other task is the Header Review.
every census image, every census ledger, has a header that includes all of the location information and the information about the enumeration itself. And reviewing that is a separate task. We broke that one out because again, the data is formatted differently. If you want to go in and help us, those have to be done as well to be able to publish the dataset. We invite you to come in and see what states still have the header review available, and you can help us finish out that as well. It’s not as exciting because it doesn’t include the names of the people. But it still has to be done to be able to publish the reviewed index.
Lisa: I hadn’t thought about the header, but that’s pretty important. If that’s not right, then we get way off track pretty quickly. It includes our enumeration district number, the county, etc. That makes a lot of sense.
Well, Jim, it sounds like you guys have really been innovating over at FamilySearch. We’re grateful. We’re grateful that you’re giving everybody watching an opportunity to also give back a little bit and we can all pull together and get this done by Flag Day.
Have you downloaded the apps that go with your favorite genealogy websites? You should! And if it’s been awhile, you should do it again. Why? They just keep getting better!
Here’s a rundown of new or improved apps from
Updated Ancestry App: Now A Continuously Swiping Tree
The old version of the Ancestry app was a great start, but didn’t actually have a tree interface on it. You could see lists of family members in your tree, but not in pedigree format. The new version (still FREE) has a redesigned look that, at least for iOS users, includes what Ancestry calls a “continuously swiping tree.” (The way Ancestry programmers made this happen was unique enough they got a patent for the process–read about it on the Ancestry blog.)
Here’s a summary of what the iPhone and iPad apps can do (taken from the Ancestry site):
New: Redesigned look for sleeker, more intuitive use
New: Build your tree faster by connecting to Facebook and your contact list
New: Read about the lives of your ancestors through story-like narrative
Preserve memories by scanning and adding photos to your tree
Explore high-res images of historical documents and records
Access the world’s largest online family resource with more than 12 billion records
Receive Hints to help reveal new family connections by finding records and photos for you
Show Notes: A compiled history is kind of like standing on the shoulders of the giants of genealogy that came before you. OK, so maybe they weren’t giants, but they did document what they found and they published it so that you can benefit from it. This means that rather than having to start from scratch, you can look at the research that’s already been done. This provides you with clues and information that you can track down and verify for yourself to add to your family tree. In this week’s video, I’m going to show you one of my favorite collections of compiled family histories at Ancestry, and the search strategies you’ll need for success.
A compiled history is kind of like standing on the shoulders of the giants of genealogy that came before you. OK, so maybe they weren’t giants, but they did document what they found, and they published it so that you can benefit from it. This means that rather than having to start from scratch, you have the opportunity to take a look at the research and the work that’s already been done by somebody else before you. This provides you with clues and information that you can track down and verify for yourself to add to your family tree.
Just like online family trees, not every compiled family history is well documented or well sourced. However, they can still be a great help.
Compiled Family Histories at Ancestry
So, where do we find compiled histories? One of my favorite places to find them is at Ancestry.com. They have a particularly terrific record collection called North America Family Histories 1500 to 2000. It’s not going to pop up in your regular search results. You’ll find it through Ancestry’s Card Catalog. It contains nearly a thousand privately published family history books containing over 4 million records. They focus particularly on the 18th and 19th century families, especially with Revolutionary War and Colonial ties. But you’ll also find some European family histories included, and particularly those with some nobility connections, which can take families are way back in time.
Today I’d like to introduce you to this exciting collection. Whether you need a little rejuvenation of your own family history, or you’re just getting started, either way compiled histories are a tried-and-true record collection that all genealogists should use.
How to Find the Collection
On the Ancestry.com homepage on desktop, in the menu click SEARCH > Card Catalog. It’s important to understand that a small percentage of the total records at Ancestry are delivered to you through hints. Therefore, it’s important not to just rely on hints, and take advantage of the entire card catalog. It’s really the best place to go when you know the title of a collection, like this one. You can type in the entire title or just a few keywords, pull up the collection and then search only within that collection.
Record collections have different searchability. Some may have an index, some may not, and some are just browsable. When searching, keep in mind that any deviation from the actual words in the title can cause it not to appear in the results. If you don’t see what you expected to find, double check your keywords. Even something like whether a word is singular or plural and affect the results. If you don’t have a specific title in mind, but you just want to browse, try a variety of synonyms, or reduce the number of words.
On the results page, you can hover over the title to get a little overview description. Click the title and you’ll find two ways to search the collection: the Browse this Collection column and the Search form.
Browse this Collection Column
Have fun and explore the collection using the Browse this Collection column. Select the first letter of a family surname, and then under Subject you’ll see an alphabetical listing of books with surnames. Click the title of a book to view the entire digitized compiled family history.
This brings up an important point. the Browse feature is just for the titles themselves. So, when you look for a surname, don’t be discouraged. If you don’t see it listed. It’s very possible that a branch of your family by that surname could be included in a book that is focused on a different surname.
The Search Form
The search form allows you to get really specific in your search with a variety of search parameters. It can also find names within a book regardless of whether the name appears in the title or description. Try it out for yourself. Get a feel for home many people appear in the collection with a particular surname, or with a first and last name. From there you can narrow down further.
Each result includes a View Record and a View Image icon. View Record provides you with some details about that person to help you determine if it’s your relative. You’ll find a variety of details depending on the amount of information available in the book. Take a moment to learn a little more about the book by clicking the Source tab. Investing a few moments up front to get familiar with the source that you’re looking at can be extremely helpful. It’s going to give you some context about who wrote this book, what it covers and possibly where a physical copy can be found. Click Learn More and scroll down the page. There you’ll find more specific information about what you might be able to find within the pages of the compiled family history. In addition to names, compiled histories may include birth date and place, baptism date and place, marriage date and place, death date and place, burial date and place and name of parents and spouses.
It’s also very handy on the search form that Ancestry will auto-populate people from your family tree based on the surname you enter so that you can fill in their information and search with one click.
Navigating within a Compiled Family History at Ancestry.com
Click the View Image icon on any search result to gain access to the digitized book. The scanned page will be zoomed in to the place on the page where the person you searched for is located. Adjust your view with the Zoom in and out tool on the right side of the screen.
Example of a page from a compiled family history at Ancestry.
At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find the filmstrip. This displays all of the individual pages of the book in order. If you want to dedicate the entire screen to the book page, click the filmstrip X to close it. If you want to return to the filmstrip, click the filmstrip icon.
The current image number (not necessarily the same as the page number) will be displayed. Learn more about the book by going to the title page. The easiest way to do that is to type “1” in the image number box and click Go. The title page and the pages immediately following it can provide you with important source information. You may also find introductory pages including the background of the author, how the book is organized and instructions on how to interpret the content within the book.
Oftentimes, at the end of the book, you will find an index. Again, the easiest way to get there is to look at the total number of pages of the book listed in the film strip bar, and then enter that number into the image field and click Go. This will jump you to the end. Use the left and right arrow keys to navigate as needed.
Improving Ancestry Images
Depending on the condition of the book and the quality of the original scanning, some books may have pages that are a little unclear or muddy-looking. You can improve the look of these pages. Click the Tool Menu icon on the right side of the screen. Here you’ll find several options. For improving the way the image looks.
If a page has a horizontal image or photo turned vertically, use the Rotate Left and RotateRight tools.
To make the page easier to ready, try Invert Colors. Black type on a white page then becomes white type on a black page which often makes it much easier to read.
Tools Menu > Invert Colors
Downloading a Compiled Family History at Ancestry
You can print or download pages from the compiled family histories at Ancestry. Having a digital version means you can read it offline and even if you no longer have an Ancestry subscription. In the Tools menu, click Download to click the current page you are viewing as a JPEG.
To print the page on paper or save it as a PDF, select Print in the Tools menu. A big advantage of the Print option is that you can opt to Also print index and source data. This will give you the page, the information specific to the person you searched for that was indexed by Ancestry, and the source information.
Use the Print to PDF function so that you can include the indexed information and source details.
Explore More Compiled Family Histories
The North American Family Histories Collection 1500-2000 at Ancestry is such a wonderful goldmine of information. If you dig into this collection, it’s going to whet your appetite to track down more compiled family histories on other websites, in your library, and at the archives.
A free FamilySearch account gives you access to more historical records and customized site features than you’ll see if you don’t log in at this free genealogy website. Here’s why you should get a free FamilySearch account and log in EVERY time you visit the site.
This post is part of our ongoing commitment to help you get the most out of the “Genealogy Giants:”
In this post, I comment on a recent announcement from the free giant everyone should be using: FamilySearch.org.
Why you should have (and use!) a free FamilySearch account
FamilySearch.org has always allowed free public use of its site. But beginning on December 13, 2017, the site will now actively prompt visitors to register for a free FamilySearch account or to log in with their existing accounts. Anyone can continue to search the catalog and user-submitted genealogies, explore over 350,000 digitized books, learn from the Wiki and the learning center, and even view user-contributed photos and stories. But by requesting you to log in, FamilySearch wants to remind you that this is your path to even more free records and services on the site.
Here are my top three reasons to have and use a free FamilySearch account:
1. Access more free historical records on FamilySearch.
One woman had an “ah-ha” moment of realization after reading FamilySearch’s announcement. She posted in the comments, “Though I have had a free account for some time, I did not realize that FamilySearch was not giving me full access to information in record searches just because I had not logged in. Maybe I need to redo my past searches as a logged-in account holder.”
2. Participate in the global Family Tree.
As I more fully describe in my quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites, FamilySearch’s online family tree is different than the tree systems used at the other major family history websites. Instead of creating your own personal tree, you participate in a collaborative, unified family tree of the world. As a logged-in visitor, you can enter your information, then that of your parents and their parents, etc. until you connect to deceased individuals who are already on the tree. (Information about living individuals is always privacy-protected.) Then you may, with other descendants, contribute what you to know to an ancestor’s profile.
Anyone may make changes to these public profiles, which may at times be frustrating. But it also allows for more focused collaboration. This is a great place to see a virtual compilation of others’ research on particular ancestors without having to search others’ personal trees individually, as you do on other sites (remember to look for their source citations and verify what others say). The Family Tree on FamilySearch is also a great place to digitally archive family documents and photos where other researchers may see and appreciate them for free. As you can see in the screenshot below, logging in also helps you see how others have identified the folks you see in your search results:
3. Get customized help.
Those who log in with a free FamilySearch account have access to one-on-one assistance through the website. If you have a question about using the site, accessing records, finding additional records about your ancestors, or even how to understand the records you’re looking at, you can email or call a live support person for help. Your login also sets you up to receive customized alerts and seasonal messages (like “Did you know your ancestor fought in the War of 1812?”) and a dashboard experience with at-a-glance reminders of record hints awaiting your review, where you left off in your last online session, tips about what to do next, and more. Here’s what the dashboard looks like:
How to get (or recover) a free FamilySearch account
See Registering to use FamilySearch.org for information about creating a free account. FamilySearch accounts have always been free and, the site assures us, will continue to be free. You will need to provide your first and last name, a username, a password, and an email or mobile phone number.
According to FamilySearch, your login and other personal information:
enables collaboration in the Family Tree and Memories areas of the site (you control how much information is shared)
“allows you to send in-system messages to other users without revealing your personal identity or email address”
“allows FamilySearch to send you emails and newsletters (you can specify how many emails, if any, you receive)”
enables communication when you contact their online support team for help
will not be shared “with any third party without your consent”
If you’ve already got a FamilySearch account but have forgotten your username, click here. If you’ve forgotten your password, click here.
This inexpensive guide can save you hours of wasted time hunting down the records you need. It can save you hundreds of dollars by helping you invest in the genealogy websites you most need to use right now–because your research needs change right along with your growing family tree! The guide is available for your immediate reference as a digital download or get a handy, high-quality printed copy you can keep with your genealogy research files.
Some Ancestry.com collections are super valuable but, for one reason or another, are easy to miss. You DON’T want to miss these four exclusive Ancestry.com collections that were hand-picked by an Ancestry staffer: landowner maps, iconic shopping catalog images,...