Dana Tyson

Dana Tyson

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Gold mine: Census records from 1950 released today

Genealogists and historians can get their eyes on a treasure trove of information today as records on 151 million people are released from the 1950 U.S. census.

The data will help many fill gaps in their family trees. And, for millions, it will be their first opportunity to find themselves in a census record.

Photo: Getty Images

For reasons of privacy, census records with individuals' details can’t be made public for 72 years, and this will be the first head count made after World War II, just as the baby boom began.

In 1950, the U.S. had less than half of today's 332 million residents. Households were larger, averaging 3.5 people compared with today's 2.6. Less than 10% of 1950 households had single residents, compared with 28% now. And adults were more likely to be married back then.

The records, released by the National Archives and Records Administration, are available in a searchable website. The handwritten forms have been digitized in more than 6.5 million images, offering amateur genealogists a chance to uncover details about parents, grandparents and other relatives. The info includes household members' names, race, sex, age, address, occupations, hours worked in the previous week, salaries, education levels, marital status and the country in which their parents were born.

The National Archives says today's digital release is “a first draft," in which searches are most likely to be successful by looking for whoever might have been the head of a household.

Family tree specialists Ancestry and FamilySearch are teaming up to quality check the records by creating their own indexes separate from the National Archives. Artificial intelligence will be used to decipher sloppy census-taker handwriting. Then, hundreds of thousands of volunteers will double-check the entries in a process that could take as long as nine months. The National Archives also says corrections to name records can be submitted using a tool on the Census website.

Here are some search tips from the Census Bureau:

  • Look for the first and last name of the head of household (plus state and county of residence if known). The surname was only written on the census form's line for the head of household and other persons in the household with a different surname.
  • To narrow your search, select multiple filters. To conduct a broader search, select one filter at a time.
  • The exact spelling of a person's name isn't needed for a name search. The search engine will return matches plus any close variations.
  • Once you've found a record, click links labeled "Population Schedules", "ED Maps", or "View Original ED Description" to see a digitized copy.
  • Use the transcription feature to correct and add names to the site's index. Your contributions can help make the schedules more discoverable for others.

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