Digitized records of the 1950 US Census are available to the public for the first time, providing a snapshot of American life after World War II. The National Archives rolled out a free searchable database of the census on April 1, including records of approximately 6.57 million households and an additional 33,360 surveys taken at Native American reservations.
“This is genealogy heaven when a census is rolled out,” Matt Menashes, executive director of the National Genealogical Society, told the Associated Press.
Records identifying people by name must be kept private for 72 years under US law, and this is the first release in a decade. The 1950 census form—which was much longer than today’s US population survey—provides insight into everything from country of origin to employment and income.
How to search for family on the 1950 Census
If you have family or friends that you’re interested in looking up on the 1950 Census, you can search for their name and the state, city, or county where they resided at the time the survey was taken. The Census Bureau has a few tips for narrowing down your search:
- Start by searching for the first and last name of the likely head of household. The last name was only included on the census form for the head of household, while other family members were listed by their first names if they shared the same surname.
- To narrow your search, you may select filters such as state, city, or enumeration district, which is the designation for the geographic area covered by a census-taker.
- If you don’t know the exact spelling of an individual’s name, you can take your best guess. Incomplete searches will still yield results.
- Once you find a record of interest, you can zoom in on the record or download the original image.
The census database isn’t a perfect search tool. If you’re looking for a common name, it may take a while to find the right record. Additionally, the name search function is powered by an Amazon Web Services character recognition tool that extracts handwritten names from the census forms. This means that the initial name index “is not 100-percent accurate,” the National Archives says, and as such they’re asking for help from the public. If you see mistakes in a form, you can use a transcription feature to correct and add names to the site’s index.
What the 1950 Census reveals
The 1950 census asked up to 38 questions, whereas the most recent form had just nine. Records may reveal a person’s country of birth, the number of hours they worked in a week, the type of job they held at the time, and what their home looked like.
Native Americans who lived on reservations at the time of the census were often counted on two separate forms. The form used for reservations also includes questions about tribal affiliations, recent participation in ceremonies, and additional names.