It’s here! It’s here! It’s here! The long awaited 1950 U.S. Federal Census was released April 1st and I’ve been diving in ever since. I thought I’d share some of my first impressions as I’ve spent several hours wading around these records.
Less Information But More Bonus Opportunities
Researchers will probably be disappointed that fewer questions were asked this time. Every census has fewer than the previous one.
The main questions on the 1950 Census include:
- Relationship to head of household
- Race, Sex, Marital Status, Age
- Birth place and if they are naturalized
- Employment information
In 1940, they introduced two bonus spots. These lucky people had more questions to answer. In the 1950 census, there are 6 bonus spots and there’s a good chance that at least a few people you are looking for are going to end up in these coveted spots.
The addition questions refer to:
- Residency information compared to the previous year
- What country their parents were born in
- Education information
- Wages earned and hours worked (for those over 14)
If the person you’re looking for was lucky enough to be in the last bonus spot, they got bonus bonus questions! Those include:
- Extra employment questions
- Whether they had been married more than once
- How many years since married, widowed, divorced, or separated (depending on the case)
- And, if female, how many children did they have
More Notes About The People and Addresses
One of the things I have lamented about in previous censuses is if you couldn’t find an address where it’s supposed to be you don’t know if the address was missed or the enumerator forgot to enumerate it. You had to go through page by page until you found it–or didn’t. Sometimes you might find a notation. Most times you were just left disappointed that you couldn’t find the person you were looking for.
This time they took extra effort to tell you why they could not enumerate an address or if they added it at the end of the district. I’m trying to find my grandma and my mom who were living somewhere in Oakland, California. I’ve been able to cross out one address from my list because the enumerator wrote “vacant”. No one was living there on that date.
There are also notes like “would not answer questions”, “would not open door, got info. from neighbor”, and the most special one “Not at home – see page…” Make sure you note this! For every enumeration district, they left pages at the end with higher page numbers than the group itself (70s and 80s). It doesn’t matter if there were 10 pages in the group or 40, you’ll always find these higher page numbers at the end. They made more than one attempt to get people at home. When they finally got them to answer the questions, they noted them at the back of the set. No more fumbling around to see if they were added somewhere! They tell you where to look.
Something else I found was they sometimes described the area they were working in.. This might be helpful to a genealogist trying to get a general sense of where their people lived especially if it was secluded or rural. I saw notes more in Monterey County than in Oakland and San Francisco.
Make sure you check the top portion of the census sheet for notes. You don’t know what you’ll find there and it might be useful information.
The Hawaii Sheets Are Different Than The Rest Of The United States
First and really important, they chose to list a region by census tract instead of town or city. In previous censuses, they gave the town, city, or planation name. In 1950, they did not break it down.
I’ve noticed on Ancestry.com, they have added the district name. For instance, Kilauea, Kauai is in the Hanalei District.
However, if you’re like me, you want to note the specific name of the town. I’m not as familiar with Hawaiian geography having never been there as other researchers might be.
I don’t know how the genealogy companies are going to deal with this. I personally don’t want a geographic residence place that says Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii for my people in Kilauea because Hanalei is it’s own place. I want Kilauea, Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii.
Another thing that I’ve noticed that is different is Hawaii’s sheets do not include the extra bonus question for the last bonus person.
Once again, European Americans are treated differently in Hawaii than mainland United States. People of European descent in the United States portion of the census are White (W). In the Hawaiian portion they are Caucasian (Cau). I know historical this meant something in Hawaii. You could be labeled as Caucasian and White and that meant you got more pay and better jobs than someone who was Caucasian but not White. The Portuguese in the Hawaii held the later classification until about 1950. But, I don’t know why they use Caucasian rather than White since there are no subcategories.
One More Important Difference In The Bonus Questions
As mentioned above, if your relative was lucky, they landed on one the “bonus” lines. At the bottom of the sheet, the first bonus questions asked them about their residency. While people in other states were asked where they lived a year ago, people in Hawaii were asked where they lived on V-J Day. That’s right! 11 Aug 1945.
The next question further clarifies. If the person lived in Hawaii, did they live on the same island.
These differences may not seem important. However, if you are trying to track a family’s movements five years before the census, you’ve got more information to help your search. You know where they lived in 1945 and whether it was the same island.
I’m not sure why they chose to ask this question differently. It could mean migratory patterns were slower than the rest of the United States. Or, they were just different. Either way, pay attention to this difference in how the question was asked as it might provide you with a clue.
Get Going On the Census!
So, that’s my summation. All in all, I like what I’ve seen. While there might be some disappointment because not as many questions were asked, you might be treated to a bonus line that makes it worthwhile.
Enumerators took extra effort to find residents and that is very much appreciated!
And, so far, the penmanship has been above average. Except that guy who drew lines on names and the one that scribbled out the second “s” in my grandfather’s Lassalle. They do not get any gold stars!
Have you researched in the 1950 Census? If so, tell us about your finds in the census. I hope you have had great luck even without indexes.