No April Fool Joke, The 1950 Census Is Coming

Original Photo purchased from

On April 1, the 1950 U.S. Census will be released by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and I know that many of you can’t wait to see what treasures you’ll find. The census is released according to the “72-year rule”. Learn more about how the 72-year rule came to be HERE.

Because the 1950 census was done 72 years ago, you may find your grandparents, parents, and perhaps even yourself in this census, depending on your age.

The 1950 census is being released to everyone. That means that you will be able to access it for free through a dedicated website. A link to the website will be available on the 1950 Census Records information page beginning April 1, 2022, at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

There is even the ability to bulk download the entire census database through the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Registry of Open Data. There will be a name index; it won’t be 100% accurate because it has been created using OCR (optical character recognition) and artificial intelligence/machine learning.  

What’s different in this census?

From 1850 to 1950, six basic questions were asked in each census, and they remained the same:  name, age, gender, race, occupation, and place of birth. Their relationship to head of the household was added in 1880, and the citizenship status of each foreign-born person was added in 1890.

So what’s new about the 1950 census?  

The 1940 census had 40 lines on each page to gather information. In 1950 this was reduced to 30 lines to ask “sample” questions of more people. It also gave the enumerator space to write notes and explanations if they were needed.

In 1940 two people were asked these “sample” questions, but in 1950 that number was increased to six people, and the sixth person was asked several additional sample questions. 

In 1950 only six people were asked these questions;

  • what county and state (or foreign country) they had lived in “a year ago” in 1949. 
  •  the highest grade they had attended, whether they had completed that grade, and whether they had attended school at any time since February 1, 1950.
  • the dollar amount received in 1949 from wages or salary; working in his or her own business, profession, or farm; or from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other non-wage or non-salary income. 
  • In 1950, only men on six “sample” lines were asked if they had served in the military in World War II, World War I, or any other time.

Some questions that were asked in the 1940 census were removed in 1950. Such as;

  • in 1940 everyone age 14 or over was asked if they had worked (or been assigned to work) on public emergency work for agencies such as the Work Projects Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and National Youth Administration (NYA) during the week of March 24-31, 1940. Those agencies were abolished during the 1940s, so the question was not asked in 1950. 
  • In 1940 two sample lines were asked if they had a Social Security Number (SSN) and whether deductions had been made from their wages or salary in 1939 for Old-Age Insurance or Railroad Retirement. This was not asked in 1950. 
  • In 1950, only the person on the last sample line was asked his or her occupation in their last (previous) job and the industry in which it had been. 

To view the blank census sheet, you can find those HERE. You will find the blank census Population Questionnaire, Census Housing Questionnaire, Census Indian Reservation Schedule, and other forms for the 1950 census and other census years.

Ancestry and the 1950 Census

Ancestry is using exciting new A.I. technology to index the 1950 census. Like everyone else, will have access to the census at 12:01 EST on April 1, and they will begin indexing the information, state by state, to make it searchable for you for free on their website. You can sign up to be advised when the U.S. state(s) you are interested in is available by going to their dedicated Ancestry 1950s census page and signing up.

With the use of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), Ancestry will covert the handwriting from the enumerator sheets and convert this to text which can then be searchable.

Teaching computers to read those sheets is fascinating to me. I’m happy that this is being done because I struggle with reading the handwriting on documents, not only for census records but other records as well. Let’s not even talk about the faint images, blotches, and torn pages. Ancestry has done a lot of prep work into using this technology, and you’ll find the video about how this was done HERE. So cool.

Then once that information is available, humans will check for any problems A.I. may have had with the handwriting. Using A.I. for the heavy lifting of the initial lists will get the job done quicker than previous censuses.

Women in the Census

Grace Murray Hopper, in her office in Washington DC, 1978, ©Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

As March is Women’s Family History Month, I recently attended a group panel about the 1950 census and what it meant to women and women, especially in the tech field. It was called; Celebration Women who “Rewrote the Code.” On the panel were Azadeh Moghtaderi, Vice President of Data Science and Analytics at Ancestry, and Katie R. Genadek, Director of the Decennial Census Digitization and Linkage project at the U.S. Census Bureau. It was facilitated by Kai Two Feathers Orton, Ph.D., and Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President & CEO of, as part of their Elevating Conversations A Series for Women in Tech.

We were reminded of the work of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who created a legacy of innovation in computer programming. To learn more about her and other influential women who wrote the code, check out this post from Ancestry HERE.

How are the women in your family acknowledged in this census? What professions will they have? Since WWII, more and more women have been in the workplace, so what kind of jobs will your female family members have?

Coming Soon To Ancestry

While researching for this blog, I also found out that Ancestry intends to add a few other features that will help put into context the information found in the 1950 census.

  • Enumeration District Maps – this feature will combine census enumeration map overlays with a modern-day interactive map.
  • Cross-Record Insights – This feature will compare multiple records and add additional historical context.

These features will help you understand your ancestors’ lives by showing you the lay of the land when they lived there versus today, and the cross-record feature will really show how their lives were changing from one time period to another.

I don’t have any direct line family who lived in the U.S. during the 1950s, but I have some FAN Club members from previous generations. In most cases, these people came from England, so it will be interesting to see how their lives have changed and understand if their move to the U.S. helped them prosper.

Happy Hunting.

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