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!

ICYMI: 50 Million Images Added to NARA’s Catalog Since August 2020

With all the excitement and preparation for the 1950 census over the past several months, you may have missed it: Millions of images of textual records keep being added to NARA’s online Catalog.

According to NARA’s “Record Group Explorer” webpage, as of March 2022 there are 161,492,780 scans online representing 1.393% of the approximate estimated total of 11.5 billion textual pages in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration.

One month earlier, in February 2022, that number was 159,188,420 images: so in just one month, 2,304,360 images were added!

Back in August 2020, there were 111,114,108 images in the Catalog, so in 18 months, 50,378,672 images were added.

Fifty million, that’s a pretty big number. Considering that this growth happened during a pandemic that limited staff access to the buildings – and to the records – that’s pretty impressive.

NARA’s 1950 Census Website Launches April 1

Get ready now with a sneak-peek from Michael Knight in NARA’s Genealogy Series: The 1950 Census Website: Design, Development, and Features to Expect, that premiered today, 30 March 2022. Researchers will be able to search by state, county, Enumeration District, name, and Indian Reservation.

The name search feature will not return perfect results on Day 1, however, for reasons outlined in the blog post, 1950 Census: Please Help NARA Refine the Draft Name Index! Researchers can help themselves — and everyone — by using the easy-to-use transcription tool to add complete names.

NARA’s 1950 Census Genealogy Series Begins March 2, 2022

NARA’s 2022 Genealogy Series begins March 2, 2022, and it focuses on the 1950 census:

  • March 2: Overview of What’s on the 1950 Census
  • March 16: Mapping the 1950 Census: Census Enumeration District Maps at the National Archives
  • March 30: The 1950 Census Website: Design, Development, and Features to Expect
  • April 27: The Story of the 1950 Census Form P8, Indian Reservation Schedule
  • May 11: From Parchments to Printouts: History of the Census from 1790 to 1950
  • May 18: History of Census Records at the National Archives
  • May 25: Historic Census Bureau Sources for Filipino, Guamanian and Chamorro, American Samoan, and Native Hawaiian Research

You’ll definitely want to watch NARA staffer Michael Knight’s March 30 program on the 1950 Census website — which will allow — on Day 1 — name searches AND allow users to help NARA improve this “first draft” name index.

Additional lectures may be scheduled – so check back at https://www.archives.gov/calendar/genealogy-series/2022.

All lectures premiere at 1 p.m. Eastern time – and remain online afterwards on NARA’s Youtube Channel. See you at the program!

NARA 1950 Census Webpages Now Online

This week the National Archives launched several webpages devoted to the 1950 census, including the main page, 1950 Census Records, at https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950. Information on these pages will undoubtedly evolve over time. The supporting informational pages include:

As noted on 1950 Census Records, you will be able to search the 1950 Census website by name and location beginning on Day 1 — April 1, 2022. To develop the initial name index, NARA used Amazon Web Services’ artificial intelligence / optical character recognition (AI/OCR) Textract tool to extract the handwritten names from the digitized 1950 Census population schedules. Because the initial name index is built on optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it will not be 100-percent accurate. The National Archives is asking for your help in submitting name updates to the index using a transcription tool that will be available on the 1950 Census website. You can help us improve the accuracy of the name index and make the records more accessible for everyone. More information on this volunteer opportunity will be forthcoming.

Researchers can learn more about this census from the 1950 Census blog posts at the History Hub and watch for news at National Archives News.

Tintypes and Photos in Civil War Pension Files

If you’ve ever wondered why some U.S. Civil War pension files have tintypes and photos – wonder no more! NARA archives specialist Jackie Budell details the reasons in three excellent recent blog posts at The Text Message:

(1) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Your Questions Answered

(2) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Why Private William Carman Sent a Tintype to His Wife

(3) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Why William Carman’s Tintype Was in His Widow’s Pension File

National Archives Catalog Email Newsletters

The staff of the National Archives Catalog has a bimonthly newsletter to which anyone can subscribe; a pop-up invitation appears just about every time you visit the basic Catalog search page at https://catalog.archives.gov.

Recent past issues of the newsletter are archived here: https://us11.campaign-archive.com/home/?u=bfeaf03e7b0b1636c0b375892&id=921cecd7dd.

Premiering Today, May 12, at 1 p.m. EDT – Finding Genealogy Resources and Tools on Archives.gov

Premiering today, May 11, 2021, at 1 p.m., this presentation will provide an overview of what’s available for genealogists on the archives.gov website, and demonstrate how to navigate to its many resources and tools, including the National Archives Catalog, the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system, the Microfilm Catalog, topic pages, articles, reports, and blogs. We’ll explore the Genealogy portal page, and also see how the website is organized, which will enable you to do even more expansive searches for information.

This session is presented by Sarah Swanson of NARA’s website staff. Have specific questions? Get them answered in the live chat that accompanies the premiere.