Jan 10, 2020

Waiting for 1950

January 10, 2020

Now that it’s 2020, it occurred to me that it’s only a little more than two years until the 1950 census will be released – on 1 April 2022, to be exact. While I know two years is still a ways in the future, it’s really not too early to begin thinking about what gems of information that census will reveal.


When I began seriously doing genealogy, the 1920 census had been out for a few years, and the 1930 was due to be released soon. I remember thinking that it would be wonderful to see that snapshot in time of my parents when they were children living with their parents and siblings. A few weeks before the census was due to be opened, I visited the National Archives in Lakeview. The archivist was excited to show me the locked file cabinet where the microfilm was safely stowed, awaiting the big reveal. All of the genealogists in the room gathered longingly around that cabinet, hardly able to bear the anticipation. After the census was finally released, the microfilm machines at the archives were in high demand, even though the census hadn’t been indexed yet, and finding family often meant long sessions of scrolling page by page.


When the 1940 census appeared ten years later, the excitement was just as intense. After all, that census was a glimpse into the past before WWII and the changes to Society that that conflict brought. By the time the 1940 census arrived eight years ago, technology had changed the way it was accessed. No longer did searching it require driving an hour to an archive, followed by hours at a microfilm reader, the 1940 census was almost immediately digitized and available online to eager researchers from the comfort of their homes. Indexing was much quicker for the 1940 census, too, so finding folks was simpler.


Now it’s time to start thinking about the 1950 census. It will undoubtedly be available online immediately upon its release date and hopefully will also be indexed at that time. The snapshot this time will be of an America heading into the Korean War, but also of an America flexing its economic and military power after WWII. For the oldest of the baby boomers, including me, it will be the first census where they appear. Because so many more genealogists are tracing families forward in an effort to make the best of use of DNA matches, the 1950 census will also be a big step forward in finding, not just ancestors, but also the chance to finally be able to track those ancestors’ descendants ten years further into the future.


I’m definitely looking forward to April, 2022, and I already know what I’ll be doing on April 1 that year. For the first time, I’ll see my name on a census and will have a chance to see in black and white my parents as a young couple with their first child. It will also be the last time that all four of my grandparents show up on a census, and I know I’ll find a bunch of long-missing cousins.


So, while two years is still a while to wait, it will go by quickly. In the meantime, it’s definitely not too early to start thinking about who you might want to try to find in the 1950 census. 2022 will be here before you know it.


Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large