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Mar 25, 2021

Only 1 More Year to the Release of the 1950 U.S. Census

The U.S. government will not release personally identifiable information about an individual to any other individual or agency until 72 years after it was collected for the decennial census. This “72-Year Rule” restricts access to decennial census records to all but the individual named on the record or their legal heir.

In 2002, I wrote about the release of the 1930 U.S. census. In 2012, I wrote about the release of the 1940 U.S. census. Guess what I will be writing about next year? That’s right: the release of the 1950 U.S. census.

Both of the last two releases of census records created huge responses from genealogists and others. In fact, when the 1940 U.S. census was released online, the web servers were swamped. Response times slowed to a crawl and the census sites generated a lot of time-out errors. The problems continued for weeks until finally the demand by genealogists and others for online access to the records slowed. Eventually, the web sites returned to what is more-or-less normal operation.

Upon releasing the entire 1940 U.S. census online on April 2, 2012 (the first day it was legal to do so), a manager at archive.com (which is no longer online) remarked, “We expected a flood. What we received was a tsunami!”

Yes, my prediction for the online releases of the 1950 U.S. census records is essentially the same as that of 9 years ago: overloaded web sites, very slow response times, and probably a lot of time-outs and other errors.

A lot of things have improved amongst web servers since 2012, especially in the area of cloud computing where it is possible to add dozens or even hundreds of servers to a single domain name on short notice. Maybe I am wrong, maybe the census records will be added smoothly and without frustrating thousands of genealogists. Maybe… but I doubt it.

There is no method of testing in advance a sudden increase in workload of thousands of web servers. Becoming prepared is simply a matter of making “best guesses” of how to handle the surge and then, at the appointed time, crossing your fingers.

The 1950 Census of the United States will be released for public inspection on Friday, April 1, 2022. Mark that date on your calendar.

The method of the release has not yet been announced. Will all the records be released online at once on April 1st? Or will the records be released over a period of several days or weeks? I don’t believe that has been announced yet but I bet there are committee meetings going on now that are formulating those plans!

A few facts about the 1950 census:

  • The 1950 U.S. census lists information about 151,325,798 residents (not always citizens) of the United States of America
  • The 1950 census collected the following information from all respondents:
    • address
    • whether house is on a farm
    • name
    • relationship to head of household
    • race
    • sex
    • age
    • marital status
    • birthplace
    • if foreign born, whether naturalized
    • employment status
    • hours worked in week
    • occupation, industry and class of worker
  • In addition, a sample of individuals were asked additional questions covering income, marital history, fertility, and other topics. Full documentation on the 1950 census, including census forms and a procedural history, is available from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.
  • The original forms on paper that were used to enumerates all U.S. residents no longer exist. Those paper forms were destroyed after the forms were microfilmed.

Microfilming the 1950 census
  • Housing information for individual households no longer exists in any format. That information was collected on the reverse (back) side of the population schedule (paper) forms, but that side of the form was not microfilmed in 1952.
  • A (blank) 1950 U.S. Census Form may be seen on the Census Bureau’s web site at: https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/1950_population_questionnaire.pdf.

NOTE: you probably will need to increase the size of the image by using the RESIZE command in your web browser or PDF file viewing application. The exact instructions to do so will vary from one program to another.

Many of these programs will increase the image size by holding down the CONTROL key and then clicking on the Plus Sign (+) one or more times. Macintosh users should hold down the COMMAND key and then click on the Plus Sign (+) one or more times.

Reducing the size of the image may be accomplished on many programs by holding down the CONTROL (or COMMAND) key and then clicking on the Minus Sign (-) one or more times. However, your web browser or PDF file viewing application may use different keys. Check the program’s instructions or Help File for the details.

  • For the first time, 3 former U.S. Presidents and one current president will be listed in the records: William J. Clinton (born 19 August 1946 at Hope, Hempstead County, Arkansas), George W. Bush (born 6 July 1946 at New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut), Donald J. Trump (born 14 June 1946 at Queens, Queens County, New York), and current President of the United States Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (born 20 November 1942 at Scranton, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania).  NOTE: James Earl Carter Jr. (born October 1, 1924) PROBABLY is not listed, as he was in the U.S. Navy and serving on board a (submerged) submarine on the day the census was taken in 1950. This needs to be verified once the records are released to the public.
    • Letter from Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dixon, Jr., to General Counsel, General Services Administration, William G. Casselman II, Esg., concerning the origins of the “72-year Rule” and its evolution to 1973, June 14, 1973: https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/grover-8-26-1952.pdf
  • The Census Bureau began use of the first non-military computer shortly after completing the 1950 enumeration. UNIVAC I (for Universal Automatic Computer), the first of a series, was delivered in 1951, and helped tabulate some of the statistics for the 1954 economic censuses. It weighed 16,000 pounds and used 5,000 vacuum tubes.

UNIVAC I  in use


One more question:

Will YOU be listed in the 1950 U.S. Census records?

A popular automobile of 1950

Mar 25, 2021

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