Discover the 1950 Census
By Tierney Gleason, Reference & Digital Humanities Librarian
The 1950 Census Is Now Online
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has digitized the 1950 Decennial Census and made it accessible online for free at https://1950census.archives.gov/.
Background information about this census as well as official publications can be found on the United States Census Bureau website as well as the NARA website. Curious about why we wait 72 years before releasing census information that includes personal information? Read about the “72 year rule” on the Pieces of History blog.
Searching the 1950 Census
When searching the 1950 Census, it is important to understand the website’s current search capabilities and how you can contribute to improving the search index. Let’s use the President of Fordham in 1950, Laurence J. McGinley, as our example.
The name index available at the moment was developed using artificial intelligence from Amazon Web Services to extract and interpret the typed text and handwriting used on the forms into data that can be searched with a computer. While this technology is helpful, it is not always accurate. If we search for Laurence J. McGinley in Bronx, New York, the results will show this misspelling as a match:
When enlarging the original handwritten document, users can verify that it says “McGinley.”
Researchers are able to discern that this result is correct because President McGinley’s name is listed on the same page as Fordham students and the enumeration district matches the location of the university.
Searching by enumeration district can help limit a search to a specific area and offer researchers a smaller set of documents to examine individually. To find an enumeration district number, use this genealogy resource developed by Steve Morse and enter an address to generate possible enumeration district numbers.
To replace “McSmiley” with “McGinley” to help future researchers, click the option on the top right to “Help Us Transcribe Names”:
When clicking to Get Started, users will be asked to submit an email address. The website will then send a code to your email as verification. Once you get the code and enter it, you can select the lines of the census form you want to update and submit the edits:
For additional questions and search tips for exploring the 1950 Census, consult the FAQ documentation here.
Searching the Indian Reservation Schedule
The 1950 Census search page also offers the option to search the Indian Reservation Schedule (Form P8) covering Native Americans living on selected reservations (see this document for the specific reservations; the Shinnecock Reservation is the only New York tribe included).
Form P8 collected each person’s name as it appeared on the 1950 Census of Population and Housing (Form P1) along with additional name(s) a person used, tribal affiliation, clan, blood quantum, participation in American Indian ceremonies during the previous year, and the ability to read, write, or speak in English or other languages. Check out The Text Message blog from the Textual Records Division at the National Archives for more information.
Open Data Option
If you want to experiment with data science applications, try the open dataset of 1950 Census data on the Registry of Open Data available from Amazon Web Services.
Additional Research Options
For a deeper dive into census information, consult the U.S. Census Bureau page on Fordham’s Demographic Data & Statistics research guide. Your local campus reference librarians are available if you need additional help locating information.