KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – In April 1950, the United States was booming. The television was becoming affordable for most, Elvis Presley was on the radio, and the census bureau took a snapshot of what turned out to be the start of the Baby Boomer generation.
Those records have been locked up behind a law that prevents the public release of census records for 72 years after the information was collected. On April 1, data collected during the 1950 census will be made available to the public for the first time. Data is expected to reflect a decade of tremendous change in the United States.
The 1950 census will show the impact of World War II and the start of the Baby Boomer generation. The average household income was $3,300, according to census bureau data. Living in the suburbs became trendy. More babies were being born than ever before. Homes and college educations were more affordable thanks to the G.I. Bill.
More than 6,000 Tennessee men and women who died in the war will not be listed on the 1950 census. The population of a secret city named Oak Ridge will, for the first time, be recorded in a public record.
To prepare for the release, The National Archives are holding a series of free webinars. No registration is required.
How to access census data
The National Archives is digitizing records before they are released making the information more easily accessible than ever.
New census records will be released through a link on the National Archives 1950 Census site that will appear April 1.
The new website includes a search function powered by Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning. An Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology tool is being used to transcribe handwritten names from the census rolls. Great-grandpa’s name spelled incorrectly? No problem. Users will be able to submit name updates through a transcription tool.
The Archives also plans to offer a bulk download of the 1950 census the day of the release.
This would allow researchers to study the data in an aggregate form and genealogical organizations and companies to provide data on their websites.
What data will be in the 1950 census?
The 1950 census began April 1, 1950 and was complete by the end of June. The National Archives estimates that all but 1 percent of the population had been enumerated when the census concluded. See an original questionnaire.
Six questions were asked in each census from 1850 to 1950: Name, age, gender, race, occupation, and place of birth. Relationship to head of household, and citizenship status of each foreign-born person were asked beginning in 1890.
In 1950, more sample questions were asked than in 1940. These are additional questions whose answers are recorded in a special place at the bottom of the census page. Just 6 persons out of 30 recorded on a page were selected to participate in these extra questions. Those six were asked where they lived in 1949, highest grade of school completed, the dollar amount of wages earned in 1949, and how much money their relatives in the same household made from the same sources.
In 1950, only men listed on the 6 sample lines were asked if they had served in the military during World War I, World War II or at any other time. Women were not asked this question, the census bureau notes. Only the person on the last sample line on the page was asked for their occupation in their last job and the industry it had been in.
The 1950 census is also notable for being the first time “infant cards” were used. These were small yellow cards filled out for babies born in January, February or March in 1950. These were created due to a large number of babies not being counted in previous enumerations, according to census officials.
A significant effort was made to document U.S. citizens living abroad, including those in the armed forces, U.S. government employees, and crews of vessels at sea or in foreign ports. Citizens in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands had different questionnaires than those in the continental U.S. The Department of Defense assisted the U.S. Census Bureau with gathering overseas data.
For the first time, a post-enumeration survey was conducted to check the validity of the data.
Why does the U.S. conduct a census?
Census data is used to draw lines for legislative districts, to determine the number of seats each state holds in Congress, and helps the government determine how to distribute funding and assistance to states and local governments. Census data helps local and state government officials know where to build parks, schools and hospitals. It helps businesses know where grocery stores are needed. Data collected in the 2020 Census shows Neyland Stadium has a larger population during home games than all but 13 Tennessee counties.
Collected data is also studied by social scientists to help us know who we are as a nation, and where we are going.