1950 Census: Let’s Understand a Few Important Things

The 1950 Census release launched today at https://1950census.archives.gov. It includes a partial name index: primarily first names plus surnames for heads of households and persons in the household with a different surname. The index has a lot of inaccuracies due to optical character recognition (OCR) attempting to decipher the handwriting of 140,000 census enumerators. However, having at least a partial index online on Day 1 is wonderful. Most of the people I was interested in looking for I could find using the name index and some common sense, and if that didn’t work, I knew where to find ED descriptions and maps. I also spent time using the transcription tool to improve the discoverability of whole pages in order to help other researchers; I didn’t limit myself to just the people in which I was I was interested. Please help NARA improve the index by transcribing. Your transcriptions become discoverable by others about 24 hours after you input them.

Having spent virtually all day answering reference questions from Twitter, emails, and posts on the History Hub, it’s clear that there’s a few things that the researcher community needs to understand a little better. Among these, in no particular order:

(1) Census schedules exist for overseas American military and civilian personnel in Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Canton [Kanton] Island, Guam, Johnston Island, Midway Island, Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Island. That’s it. Not in Germany, not in Japan, not anywhere else.

(2) If the census schedule says the “Not at home” household is on page 71 or higher, do not give up because there are “only 20” pages (or whatever) for the Enumeration District. Go to the last image, look at the Sheet Number in the upper right corner of the page. See if it is Sheet 71 or higher, and then work your way back a few pages until you get to page 71 or whatever page your “Not at home” household is on. Read my blog post for more information on what Page 71 and up.

(3) Yes, you can download individual images. Look for the three dots below the blue box that says “Help Us Transcribe the Names” and click on those three dots. You will then be given an opportunity to download: Click on the word download. Choose the level of quality you want (more pixels are better).

(4) You can share a link to an entire ED. You can also share a link to a single page if you’ve searched by name. Being old school, I copy and paste the link my browser shows, but there is a share feature that can do that, too.

(5) Learn by doing. If you’re not sure what one of the features in https://1950census.archives.gov does, click on it. Words in blue or highlighted in blue are clickable links. Gray features also often clickable. Play with it.

(6) https://stevemorse.org has a lot of great tools for census research – and more. Become familiar with them. Use them.

(7) NARA has provided a lot of useful resources with identical content at https://1950census.archives.gov/howto and https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950. Read pertinent 1950 census blog posts: https://twelvekey.com/blog-posts-on-other-sites.

(8) Only one side of the census form was microfilmed in 1952. The original paper records were destroyed in 1961-63. Side 2 does not exist.

Ok, thanks for reading! Let’s go transcribe some more!

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