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Find Your People In The 1950 Census!

Posted by Sean Daly on Apr 15, 2022
1950 Census logo

The 1950 US federal census became available online at the National Archives on April 1, with machine indexing. However, accurate and complete indexing of the scanned images at NARA or at FamilySearch or Ancestry won’t be available for some time. Having trouble finding your people now? Read our guide for useful tips and tricks!

On April 1, scanned images of the United States federal census from 1950 were published by the National Archives, following the 72-year rule. NARA and Ancestry (parent company of Geneanet as of last year) have both independently processed the census images with handwriting recognition software, a shortcut not available ten years ago with the 1940 census. If the census enumerator wrote legibly, you may be able to find your people already! If not, you can just wait a few months; workers and volunteers are busy correcting the indexes at the National Archives and FamilySearch (Ancestry is partnering with FamilySearch on this project). But if you know where your family lived, you can look them up in their neighborhood’s Enumeration District (ED) pages!

In our previous post, we outlined how to use ED maps and boundary descriptions to find your family’s ED, if you have some idea of where they were living in the spring of 1950. Genealogist Stephen P. Morse has created excellent tools for identifying an ED from an address. [Note: Be aware that Facebook’s dysfunctional AI has marked Steve’s site as spam, so links will not work on that platform; we and others have been unable to interest Facebook in resolving this issue.] And take a little time to peruse NARA’s useful blog posts about this census. Look carefully to see if anyone in your family was on one of the six “sample lines”; you will find more information about them at the bottom of the sheet!


The Enumeration District (ED)

An ED was usually assigned to a single enumerator, someone who knew the neighborhood. An ED may have as few as ten pages, or as many as 40 or more. This may seem like a lot of pages to scroll through, but if you have ever scrolled through pre-19th century church registers, you will find the census sheets much more readable…

Let’s take a look at an ED map. Census Bureau offices usually created these from existing maps, asking a draftsman to draw districts directly on the map.

This is the master ED map for the city of New Haven, Connecticut.

You may not be aware that these maps, and the accompanying text descriptions like the one below, have been available for years at the National Archives site. These can be accessed on the NARA site, or through Steve Morse’s tools. Ancestry has also just launched an ED finder application at their 1950 census portal.

These text descriptions are helpful to understand why one side of a street is in one ED, while the other side is a different one!

Mysterious Sheet “71”

Sheets numbered 71 or higher are for people who were missed on a previous visit.

What if you find the census page where your family was living, and instead of their names, you see “Not At Home, see sheet 71”? Don’t panic! Every census had some instructions for enumerators specific to that census. In 1950, rather than ask neighbors for information, workers were asked to reserve one or more sheets (pages) starting with the number 71 for anyone counted out of order. As most EDs were only 10 to 40 pages, sheet 71 was always reserved for anyone missed the first time around. In the microfilm rolls which have been digitized, this page was the first blank page after the ED was completed. In other words, if there were 14 sheets, the 15th sheet would be numbered 71. Some EDs have pages 72, 73, 74, etc., depending on how many people were not at home and were counted during a later visit by the enumerator.

Not at home? Don’t panic, scroll to the end of the scans for Sheet 71!
Look at lines 17 and 25, the missing people are there!

Consider volunteering to index the census

Both the National Archives and FamilySearch are calling on volunteers in a crowdsourcing effort to correct and complete the census indexes, so that any name can be searched to find a page. FamilySearch is progressively adding states, check their map here.

At FamilySearch, New York State has just gone live for indexing this week.
At NARA, on any census page, click on the Help Us Transcribe Names button and enter your e-mail; you will be provided with a code to access the edit screen.

If you are unable to find your family — for example, because you don’t know where they were living — don’t despair. Although it is possible they were not enumerated at all (moving house, or overseas, or just missed by an enumerator), you won’t know for sure until corrected indexing has been completed this summer. Prepare your list of people to hunt for and good luck in your searches!

2 comments

Lorraine Heiser


This census is a big let down :(


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