After 72 Years, 1950 Census Data Is Now Public

It's a gold mine for genealogists
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2022 9:09 AM CDT
After 72 Years, 1950 Census Data Is Now Public
Ronald Reagan, a 39-year-old Los Angeles resident, told census takers he was working as an actor.   (Census Bureau)

(Newser) – An amazing snapshot of America in 1950 is now online. The year's census records were released Friday in an event that Matt Menashes, executive director of the National Genealogical Society, likens to the "Super Bowl and the Olympics combined" for researchers, the New York Times reports. The records, which can be searched here, list the details of 151 million Americans taken down by some 140,000 census takers in the first census since World War II. The details recorded in the once-in-a-decade census include ages, addresses, occupations, salaries, birthplaces, and the number of hours worked in the previous week.

"It’s awesome stuff," Menashes tells the Times. "What’s so great about these points of data is that it helps you paint a picture—not just relationships, but what society was like." Federal law required the National Archives and Records Administration to keep the records private for 72 years. The last such release was 10 years ago, when records from the 1940 census were made public. The website with the 1950 records includes a tool allowing people to fix incorrect names in the handwritten records, the AP reports.

The records depict a rapidly changing country, with the baby boom underway and the shift from cities to suburbs just getting started. Genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke describes the release as a "really big deal," the Washington Post reports. She notes that with an estimated 26 million people recorded in the 1950 census still alive today, "there's a huge nostalgia component" for people looking at their family trees. Lost to history, however, is the back page of the forms, which asked people questions about housing and appliances but was not microfilmed or retained by the Census Bureau. (Read more census stories.)

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