The National Archives and Records Administration released millions of records from the 1950 census online at 12:01 a.m. Friday, revealing for the first time a wealth of data on people’s lives – from income to ancestry to education and more – which were kept secret by federal law for 72 years.
The release of such historical census data, which occurs every ten years (the 1940 census was released in 2012), is an important event for historians and genealogists, but laypeople may also want to look at the records for details about the lives of relatives and families relatives to find out others. The National Archives have made this easy: this website provides a link to a free database of census information that is searchable by name and address.
Because the handwritten forms from this census were read and transcribed using artificial intelligence, the spelling may be incorrect. The National Archives reported Friday afternoon that visitors to the census website had already submitted 150,000 proposed corrections to misspelled or garbled information using a transcription tool on the site.
Still, public response to the new site has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Pamela Wright, the agency’s chief innovation officer, said in a written statement. “The vast majority of people report how excited they are to be able to easily find the information they are looking for,” she said.
There are ways to make the search smoother. The Census Bureau has FAQs and tips on this website.
With common surnames like Johnson, it can be helpful to focus on an uncommon first name, if one exists. Also, a search will uncover variants of a surname — say, Smits instead of Smith — and cast a wide net to account for the possibility of misspellings. The archive suggests that searchers review each record that results from a search, even if the name is slightly different. Records should become more accurate as site users submit corrections.
If that doesn’t work, it’s possible to search individual census tracts, the small geographic areas by which the census was organized. A list of census districts is available in the National Archives Catalog, but finding the right one requires at least a general idea of where someone lived.
It is also worth remembering that some people may not have been counted at their primary residence — for example, inmates in prisons or college and university students in dormitories — and some people may not have been counted at all. For example, the Census Bureau worked with the Pentagon to obtain information on overseas military personnel and their families, but most of that data was not stored.
If all else fails, the National Archives say, it may be time to look elsewhere for clues. For example, libraries and other archives may have old telephone books and city directories. The archive recommends this article, an adaptation of search tips for the 1940 census published in a genealogical journal in 2011.
Historians and other researchers can download the entire dataset by visiting the Registry of Open Data maintained by Amazon Web Services.
Other major genealogy organizations such as Ancestry.com and Family Search are expected to offer the same data soon, and these two plan to do their own transcription and error checking of names and addresses to eventually produce a highly accurate list. While Family Search is a free service, many others require users to subscribe to a free trial or sign up before gaining access to census records and other data.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/us/census-records-1950-access.html How to find newly released 1950 census records