‘Gold Mine’ of 1950 Census Records Released to the Public
ItIt was the first official census taken after World War II. This was when the baby boom began. It was full steam ahead with the Great Migration of Black people from Jim Crow South into places such as Detroit and Chicago. Some industrial cities had reached their maximum population before Americans moved to the suburbs.
Genealogists and historians will be able to take a closer look at the historical trends starting Friday when records for individual people are made from 1950’s census.
The records are viewed by researchers as gold, while amateur genealogists view them as a means to complete gaps in their family tree. This field has experienced a dramatic increase in popularity due to home DNA testing kits.
“This is genealogy heaven when a census is rolled out,” said Matt Menashes, executive director of the National Genealogical Society. “People are waiting anxiously. It’s hard to overstate.”
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For privacy reasons, records identifying people by name can’t be made public until 72 years after they are gathered during the once-a-decade U.S. head count. These 1940 records were made public a decade ago.
Wendy Kalman in Atlanta is an amateur genealogist. She hopes to use the 1950 records to help find information about her grandparents and parents. She has traced her father’s side of the family back to 18th century Ukraine, and her research has put her in touch with previously unknown third and fourth cousins in the U.S. whom she talks to regularly.
“It’s an interesting journey to find out where you are from and the census records help you find information that isn’t always available,” said Kalman, 55. “Family stories aren’t always passed down and the census records give you a snapshot in time. It helps put together a picture.”
Ronnie Willis’ relatives from both sides of his grandparents’ families were itinerant farmers who traveled through Texas and Oklahoma as a blended group throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After World War II, they became nuclear families. Willis hopes that 1950 census records can help him reconstruct the history of relatives who settled elsewhere.
“That will help get me 10 years closer to putting the puzzle together, a little bit,” said Willis, 53, a software company executive who lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
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Searchable websites will index the records that were released by National Archives and Records Administration. The digitized, handwritten forms have information about 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. Users will be able to correct any errors or add missing names on the website.
Claire Kluskens, a digital projects archivist at the National Archives, acknowledged that what will be on the website starting Friday is “a first draft,” in which specific people are most likely to be found initially only by searching for whoever was listed as the head of their household.
Ancestry and FamilySearch are two outside genealogical organizations that have come together to provide quality control on records. They created their own separate index from The National Archives.
Ancestry will have scores of employees ready to go Friday at 12:01 AM EDT in order for them to begin downloading more than 6.5 Million digital images from the census files. Utah-based Ancestry will scan millions of census files using artificial intelligence. It will then convert the data into an easily readable database format by deciphering sloppy handwriting.
“We are so excited to dive into the census,” said Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist at Ancestry.
FamilySearch coordinates the effort to double-check entries against the original digital images. This will involve anywhere from 400,000 to 800,000. If the digital record of the 1950 census form says “Wilhelmina” but has been entered as “William” in the index, that will be corrected, said David Rencher, director of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and FamilySearch’s chief genealogy officer.
According to him, the process could last six-to nine months.
“We believe we will get better accuracy because we are having humans look at it,” Rencher said.
Learn more It has been political to fill out the Census.
New data will reveal the contours and possibilities of a completely new world.
The United States had only half the population of its 332 million inhabitants in 1950. The average household size was 3.5 persons, as compared to 2.6 in 2019, which is a larger number. In 1950, only 9% of households were led by a single person. This is compared to 28% for 2019. According to Marc Perry, senior Demographer at Census Bureau, adults were more likely than ever to marry. In 1950, more than two thirds of households had someone living alone, while 28% in 2019 was less.
Elaine Powell is delighted because it is her first census record release. President of the Central Florida Genealogical Society, Elaine Powell was born in 1946 in St. Louis.
“It’s just exciting. I remember the first time I found my parents in the census, you could hear me whooping and hollering in the library,” Powell said. “It verifies what you have been told by your parents and grandparents.”
This can be used to correct any family lore. After all, as Powell noted, “genealogy, without documentation, is mythology.”
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