1950 Census: A Moment in Time
February 24, 2023
The Decennial U.S. Censuses are often called a snapshot of a moment in time. The censuses were designed to count every resident in the entire country. As such they give genealogists and other researchers a glimpse of those residents’ lives at a particular time and place.
This week that moment in time aspect of the census was brought into focus for me. Like many folks, I’d found my own family and my grandparents on the 1950 census nearly a year ago when the census was released. I hadn’t bothered to find the rest of my extended family. I figured I’d get around to it later when the indexing improved.
My mother had eight siblings and my dad had two. All of them are gone now, but I knew them. Most of them were married and had started their own families by 1950. Many of them were in Northern Utah, but I wasn’t sure where. Like many young couples, they moved around during their early married years.
The last few days have been cold and snowy here. These stay-at-home days have been ideal for a search through the 1950 census. The indexing has improved since last April. I found all ten of my aunts and uncles and their respective spouses easily. Like all the censuses, the 1950 one is available on lots of websites. I used Ancestry and found my aunts and uncles with a simple name search.
Comparing the ten aunts and uncles put the post-World War II era into focus for me. My aunts and uncles were typical of what was happening in America at that time. In 1950 the Baby Boom generation was coming into existence. All but two of my aunts and uncles were married, and seven of the eight had had a baby born within the last year. Three of the babies were born within the two months before the census was taken.
The two aunts who were not married were both students in 1950, although the census just lists their occupation as “Other.” My mother’s youngest sister was only nineteen and was still living at home with my grandparents. According to the local college yearbook, she was a student that year. My dad’s unmarried sister was older, but she too was a student. She is shown living in New York City. I knew that she spent a year or so in New York attending Columbia University working on a master’s degree. Now I know exactly when she was there and even where she lived.
My uncles had a variety of occupations in 1950. The military still had a large presence in Utah in 1950, and several of my uncles worked at Hill Air Force and other military installations in the area. Three of the men were fulltime farmers, and so was my dad. As was usual at the time, my aunts, except the two students, had no occupation outside of their homes.
The 1950 census even told me how much schooling several of my aunts and uncles had had and what their income was that year. The person listed on every fifth line was asked additional questions which included education and income.
Digging into the 1950 census for my aunts and uncles has been fascinating. I thought I already knew a lot about these close relatives, who I saw often during my childhood and younger years. Turns out there is still more to learn about them. The 1950 census is only the beginning. I’m off to delve into college yearbooks, military records and various other records to find out even more.
If you’ve been overlooking your more recent relatives, the 1950 census is a good place to start rectifying that oversight. After all, it is a snapshot of a moment in time.