AOTUS: Preparing for the 1950 Census

April 23, 2021

David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States

Every 10 years, the records of the decennial population census—restricted for 72 years in order to protect people’s privacy—are released to the public. The opening of a census has long been a big event at the National Archives and Records Administration. When census schedules were available only on microfilm in our research rooms, some of our facilities would even open at midnight on opening day to let in the most intrepid researchers.

When we open the records on April 1, 2022, however, we will be conducting a fully digital roll-out, just as we did for the 1940 census. A website dedicated to the 1950 census will give researchers access to the scanned schedules and enumeration district maps, tutorials, frequently asked questions, and other resources.

The 1950 census contains an estimated

7,816,000 population schedule pages,
9,634 enumeration district maps, and
34,000 “Indian Census” pages.

The agency has been preparing for this launch since we completed the release of the 1940 census, and our work has continued even during the coronavirus pandemic. Even though our buildings have been closed to the public, we’ve used our limited staff access to maintain a steady workflow. A select number of staff received special clearances to work on these records and scanned the majority of the pages. They are also able to work remotely on indexing state, county, and enumeration district metadata.

With input from NARA staff and public stakeholders, we are developing the layout of the web page so that researchers will be able to find what they need. To ensure that the website will be able to withstand the expected crush of users when we launch in April 2022, we are planning to use current cloud technologies. 

The website won’t be the only access point for the 1950 census records. To meet the needs of those who would like to work with the data as a whole or in large chunks, such as for digital humanities and other purposes, we are exploring possibilities for providing bulk downloads.

When census records are released, the public has a wealth of data to sift through and analyze. Using census records is often the entry point for researchers new to using the National Archives. Census records can provide the building blocks of your research—you can find names and addresses of family members, make connections among the people listed on the page, study the individual or the community at large and see how the individual fits into the community.

Over the next year, we will keep you informed about further developments in our plans to roll out the 1950 census. We will share information on NARA’s various social media platforms about the 1950 census itself, the Native American census, associated administrative records, and preparations for the digital release. We’ll also feature some of the important “behind the scenes” work that is being carried out by NARA staff.

History Hub, our crowdsourced history research platform, has recently opened a new Census Subcommunity [https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/census-records], where community members can ask questions and share information about the 1950 and earlier censuses. To share information about the 1950 census in particular, History Hub is publishing a series of blog posts [https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/blog/authors/ckluskens] written by NARA’s Census Subject Matter expert.

All that we are doing to support public access to the records of the 1950 census ties in to our core mission—to make access happen. We look forward to the public release of these valuable records and seeing how they will enrich our national story.

For more information about census records at the National Archives, see our Census Records web pages [https://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/census/online-resources]. 

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