1950 US Census & Genealogy

If you have been following genealogy conversations through social media over the last couple of months, you may have seen that there has been a lot of excitement about the 1950 US Census. You may have also wondered what is all this excitement about and why is the 1950 US Census so special that everyone is talking about it.

Right of Privacy

Every ten years since 1790, the US Census Bureau sends enumerators around to collect information for statistical purposes on everyone within the country. Since the census contains information about each person, the US Census Bureau and the National Archives entered into an agreement in 1952 that the actual copies of the census would not be available to the public for 72 years from the date the census was taken. Congress made this agreement into a law by passing the "72-Year Rule, opens a new window" in 1978.  What this means is that the enumerated pages listing everybody's names and information could not be made available to the public until 72 years to the date of the taking of the Census. On April 1 of this year (2022) at midnight (EDT), the National Archives made available the images to the 1950 US Census at https://1950census.archives.gov/, opens a new window.

Searching the Census

Prior to making the census available, the National Archives ran the census images through a system where a searchable index was created. The index was created through handwriting recognition software on the names which were mostly written in cursive. While the computer did not read every name accurately, most of the names were deciphered close enough that it can be found in a search.

FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage are working together to create their own index. As their indexing process concludes for each state, the index is being made available on a state-by-state basis. The library has a subscription to the Library Edition of Ancestry.com that can be used at any of the branch locations. FamilySearch.org is a free genealogy resource and can be accessed anywhere. Both of these resources are listed on the library's website: Online Library > Genealogy Resources, opens a new window.

Indexing Projects

Both the National Archives and the FamilySearch-Ancestry.com-MyHeritage efforts used handwriting recognition software. Since the results from the computer are not always accurate, individual volunteer efforts are needed to help correct the index. When using the National Archives site (https://1950census.archives.gov/, opens a new window) and finding a name that was not accurately indexed, the National Archives includes a button on the site "Help Us Transcribe Names" that can be used to enter the correct information for the names.

For the FamilySearch-Ancestry.com-MyHeritage indexing project, you can go to https://www.familysearch.org/getinvolved/1950, opens a new window and select a state to review names or all detailed entries for an entire family on the census.  You can also help with this project through the Get Involved app for both Apple and Android devices.

On Saturday morning of May 21, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, there will be a program at the Covington Branch on the 1950 US Census explaining how to research the census and the benefits of using this census for research. We will also be spending some time getting started with indexing efforts for both of these projects. Registration for this session is required, opens a new window.