Genealogy websites

Publication of the registers of the 1950 census: “This is the paradise of genealogy”

It was the first census after World War II. The baby boom had begun. The great migration of black residents from the Jim Crow South to places like Detroit and Chicago was in full swing. And some industrial towns hit their population peak before Americans started moving to the suburbs.

Starting Friday, genealogists and historians can get microscopic insight into these radical historical trends when individual records on 151 million people from the 1950 census are released.

Researchers see archives as a goldmine and amateur genealogists see it as a way to fill gaps in family trees, an area of ​​research that has seen dramatic growth in recent years thanks to the popularity of DNA testing kits. home.

“It’s genealogy heaven when a census is taken,” said Matt Menashes, executive director of the National Genealogical Society. “People are waiting impatiently. It’s hard to exaggerate.”

For privacy reasons, records identifying people by name cannot be made public until 72 years after they were collected during the US decade count. The 1940 records came out ten years ago.

For Wendy Kalman, an amateur genealogist in Atlanta, the 1950 records will help her consolidate details about her parents, grandparents and loved ones. She has traced the paternal side of the family back to 18th century Ukraine, and her research has brought her into contact with previously unknown third and fourth cousins ​​in the United States, with whom she speaks regularly.

“It’s an interesting journey to find out where you’re from, and census records help you find information that isn’t always available,” said Kalman, 55. “Family histories aren’t always passed down, and census records give you a snapshot in time. It helps create a picture.

1950 U.S. Census Records
Elmer W. Henderson, seated, a Washington man whose lawsuit served as the basis for a Supreme Court ruling banning segregation in dining cars, orders food from Stanford Peters, a dining car server, the June 4, 1950.


Ronnie Willis’ parents on both sides of his grandparents’ families were traveling farmers who traveled through Texas and Oklahoma as a mixed group throughout the 1930s and 1940s. But they broke into nuclear family units after World War II. Willis hopes the 1950 census records will help him piece together what happened to those relatives who moved to other states.

“It will help me get 10 years closer to putting the puzzle together, a little bit,” said Willis, 53, a software company executive who lives in Greenville, South Carolina.

Documents published by the National Archives and Records Administration will be indexed on a searchable website. Scanned and handwritten forms contain information on names, race, sex, age, address, occupations, hours worked in the previous week, wages, education levels, marital status and the country in which their parents were born. The website will include a tool allowing users to correct incorrect names or add missing names.

Claire Kluskens, archivist of digital projects at the National Archives, acknowledged that what will be on the website from Friday is “a first draft”, in which specific people are more likely to be found initially only by searching for the one who was listed as the head of their household.

Two outside genealogy groups, Ancestry and FamilySearch, a division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have teamed up to serve as quality control on the records by creating their own separate index from the National Archives.

1950 U.S. Census Records
Singer Paul Robeson marches past the White House in Washington, May 24, 1950, where demonstrators carry signs demanding passage of fair employment practices legislation.


At Ancestry, dozens of workers will be ready at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday to begin downloading the more than 6.5 million digital images from the census files. The Utah-based company will analyze the millions of surveys, using artificial intelligence to decipher the sloppy handwriting and convert the information into a readable database.

“We’re excited to dive into the census,” said Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist at Ancestry.

Between 400,000 and 800,000 volunteers across the United States, coordinated by FamilySearch, will then double check the entries with the actual digital images. If the digital record of the 1950 census form says “Wilhelmina” but was entered as “William” in the index, that will be corrected, said David Rencher, director of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and director of FamilySearch genealogy.

1950 U.S. Census Records
The Theodore James family lives in a 16-foot square tent outside the town of Tulare in California’s San Joaquin Valley, pictured March 22, 1950.

David F. Smith/AP

The effort could take six to nine months, he said.

“We think we’ll get better accuracy because we’re having humans review it,” Rencher said.

The new data will flesh out the contours of a radically different world.

In 1950, the United States had less than half of the 332 million people it has today. Households were larger, with an average of 3.5 people, compared to 2.6 people per household in 2019. Only 9% of households had someone living alone in 1950, compared to 28% in 2019. Adults were also more likely to be married, with more than two-thirds of adult men and women being married in 1950, compared to less than half of men and women in 2019, said Marc Perry, senior demographer at the Census Bureau.

Elaine Powell is excited because this is the first version she will see herself in the census records. The president of the Central Florida Genealogical Society was born in 1946 and grew up in the St. Louis area.

“It’s just exciting. I remember the first time I found my parents on the census, you could hear me screaming and screaming in the library,” Powell said. “He verifies what your parents and grandparents told you.”

He can also correct the traces left by family traditions. After all, as Powell noted, “genealogy, without documentation, is mythology.”

Last year, the Census Bureau published its most detailed look yet detailing the 2020 census results.

White residents remain the largest racial group in the United States, at 204.3 million people, but their numbers have declined over the past decade, dropping 8.6%.

Hispanic or Latino residents were the second largest group in the country, making up 18.7% of the total population. They were also the second most prevalent group in a significant number of counties. In Texas, a state that will add two congressional seats, Hispanic or Latino residents have narrowed their gap with white residents to less than half a percentage point.

However, earlier this year officials revealed the 2020 census underestimated black, Latino and indigenous populations, even more than in the census of the last decade. The understatement rate for Latinos was more than triple what it was in the 2010 census, while the black population was underestimated at a rate about 60% higher than in 2010.