Apr 15, 2022

Finding Family in the 1950 Census

April 15, 2022

The 1950 census has been available for a couple of weeks now. So far, I’ve found my own family, both sets of grandparents and many of my aunts and uncles.


My own family was fairly easy to find. I knew we lived in the small Utah town of South Weber in Davis County. The whole town was in a single enumeration district and took only thirteen pages. It was simple for me to locate my family by scanning through a few pages. My paternal grandparents lived in the next house so they were easy to find as well.


I knew the town where my maternal grandparents lived, but not a street address. I found that using the 1950 District Finder tool was the easiest way to figure out enumeration districts. Inputting the name of the town where my grandparents lived brought up a map and a list of enumeration districts found in that town. There were only four, but each district had between twenty and fifty pages.


Instead of paging through all of those pages, I went to the U.S. Archives website and used their OCR search. In the case of my grandfather, I was able to find him immediately.


When I tried to find my ten aunts and uncles, things got a bit trickier. I thought that most of them lived in Weber County, Utah, but in several cases I didn’t know exactly where in that county they lived. I was sure some of them lived near my grandparents, so I browsed through the enumeration district where my grandparents lived. I found four of my aunts and uncles that way.


I tried the Archives search feature, but it only gave me two of the six people I was looking for.

For the other four, I spent some time digging out birth announcements and other documents that listed addresses for them close to the 1950 date. Then I searched page by page in those towns for them. I found two more aunts.


So far I haven’t been able to find the other two relatives. One is an aunt who was either teaching school somewhere in Utah or perhaps attending school herself in New York City. The other aunt should be in Ogden, Utah, but the index doesn’t show her, and Ogden was too big a city to search page by page.


Soon, all of the big platforms like Ancestry and My Heritage will have human-generated indexes for all of the 1950 census. At that point finding my missing aunts should be easier.


Right now, My Heritage is boasting that it has complete indexes for three states: Wyoming, Vermont and Delaware plus the territory of American Samoa. All of those are places with small populations, so it’s probable it will be awhile before indexes for larger states like New York and California will be available.


In the meantime, if you know where someone was living in 1950, you have a good chance of finding them, particularly if you know a specific street address. If you only know the town, searching manually in a small town is fairly easy. If you only know that someone was living in a city like Chicago, searching manually is not worth the effort.


The OCR index on the National Archives may be helpful for some folks, but for me it hasn’t proved very accurate. I’ve searched it for nearly everyone in my family. I’ve only found a few. I’d try it, but it may or may not work. I tried to find an uncle whose surname is Wickes. That’s a fairly unusual name, and the OCR index didn’t find anyone who spelled his name that way.


When I found a specific address for this uncle, I found his enumeration district. A quick search through that district found him. I have no idea why. Not finding someone in the OCR index doesn’t mean they aren’t in the census at all.


Right now, I’m putting my relatives who lived in larger cities in 1950 on hold. Although I want to find them, I think I’ll wait until a better index is available.


Carol Stetser