The 1950 Census – A Research Guide

by | 1 Apr 2022

Having trouble finding people in the 1950 census? See 1950 Census Search Tips!


Census Day: 1 April 1950
Time to Complete: About two months
U.S. Population: 150.7 million

On April 1, 1950, 140,000 census enumerators began conducting the 17th decennial census of the United States. All responses were to reflect the individual’s status as of 1 April 1950, even if their situation changed between 1 April and the day the census taker visited (e.g., children born after 1 April should not be listed, and people who died after 1 April should be counted). The 1950 census covered the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and some of the smaller island territories.

The format used in the 1950 census was similar to 1940, but with fewer questions asked of most individuals. Additional questions were asked of six persons whose name fell on a highlighted line labeled “Sample”; the sixth person was also asked additional questions. Special forms were used to collect information from the large number of military and government workers living overseas with their families. College and university students were enumerated at their college residences where they normally lived rather than at home with their parents. Native Americans residing on reservations were recorded on the original schedule, but a supplemental schedule was used to obtain additional information including other name(s) by which that person was known, their tribe, clan, degree of Indian blood, ability to read, write, or speak English or any other language, and participation in any native Indian ceremonies in 1949. These schedules are available online in addition to the population schedules.

Questions Asked of everyone in the 1950 Census

  • name of street, avenue, or road
  • house and apartment number
  • serial number of dwelling unit
  • Is this house on a farm or ranch?
  • Is this house on a place of three or more acres?
  • Agricultural Questionnaire Number
  • name
  • relationship to head of household
  • race
  • sex
  • age on last birthday
  • marital status: Married (Mar), Widowed (Wd), Divorced (D), or Separated (Sep)
  • state or country of birth
  • naturalization status if foreign born (Yes, No, or AP for born abroad of American parents)

Questions for persons fourteen years of age and over

  • Was this person working (Wk), unable to work (U), keeping house (H), or doing something else (Ot) most of last week
  • If H or Ot in item 15: Did this person do any work at all last week?
  • If No in item 16: Was this person looking for work?
  • If No in item 17: Even though he didn’t work last week, does he have a job or business?
  • If Wk in item 15 or Yes in item 16: How many hours did he work last week?
  • occupation
  • industry in which person worked
  • class of worker: Private employer (P), government (G), in his or her own business (O), or without pay on family farm or business (NP)

Questions for persons on sample lines (six per sheet)

  • Was he living in this same house a year ago?
  • Was he living on a farm a year ago?
  • Was he living in this same county a year ago?
  • If No in item 23: What county (24a) and state or foreign country (24b) was he living in a year ago?
  • What country(s) were his father and mother born in?
  • What is the highest grade of school attended?
  • Did he finish this grade?
  • Has he attended school at any time since February 1st? (Yes, No, or age 30 or over)

Questions for persons on sample lines if fourteen years of age and over

  • If Yes in item 17: How many weeks has he been looking for work?
  • Last year (1949), in how many weeks did this person do any work (excluding work around the home)?
  • a. Last year (1949), how much money did he earn working as an employee for wages or salary (before taxes and other deductions)?
    b. Last year (1949), how much money did he earn working in his own business, professional practice, or farm (net income)?
    c. Last year, how much money did he receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income (excluding salary or wages)?
  • a. Last year (1949), how much money did his relatives in this household earn working for wages or salary (before taxes and other deductions)?
    b. Last year (1949), how much money did his relatives in this household earn in their own business, professional practice, or farm (net income)?
    c. Last year, how much money did his relatives in this household receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income (excluding salary or wages)?
  • If male, did he ever serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during (33a) World War I, (33b) World War II, or (33c) any other time, including present service? (Yes/No).

Questions for person on the last sample line if fourteen years of age and over

  • If person worked last year (1 or more weeks in item 30): Is there any entry in items 20a, 20b, and 20c? If Yes, skip to item 36. If No, make entries in items 35a, 35b, and 35c.
  • 35a. What kind of work did this person do in his last (previous) job?
    35b. What kind of business or industry did he work in (in previous job)?
    35c. Class of worker (in previous job): Private employer (P), government (G), in his or her own business (O), or without pay on family farm or business (NP).
  • If ever married (Mar, Wd, D, or Sep in item 12): Has this person been married more than once? (Yes/No).
  • How many years since this person was (last) married, widowed, divorced, or separated?
  • If female and ever married (Mar, Wd, D, or Sep in item 12): How many children has she ever borne, not counting stillbirths?

1950 Census Online – Search Tips!

National Archives—The 1950 census was initially released on 1 April 2022 on the National Archives website with a name-only index created using artificial intelligence. Considering that we’re asking computers to read old handwriting that it is hard for many humans to read, the index is far from perfect. Until better indexes are manually created try these tips to find individuals:

  • The first/last name field uses OR not AND because the surname was written on the census form only on the line for the head of household and other persons in the household with a different surname. Try search with a state and county plus only a surname. If there are a lot of results, increase the number of results per page to 100 and then use the Find feature of your browser (Ctrl-F for Windows and Apple-F for Mac) to find entries for the given name among the results.
  • If any member of the household has an unusual given name, try searching only for that plus the county and state.
  • If you know where the individual lived in 1950, use the Enumeration District (ED) maps and search features available from Steve Morse (1950 Census ED Finder) and Ancestry (1950 Census District Finder) to locate the correct ED and try searching a combination of the ED number and surname. Alternatively, browse the ED page by page. Search for only the ED number (no name) to do this.
  • If you aren’t sure where the family was living, ask living family members or seek records created as close to 1950 as possible (e.g., city directories, veterans compensation applications, vital records (birth, marriage, death), newspapers, employment records, WWII draft registration records).
  • If you find your family’s street enumerated but not their house number, pay attention to whether the other homes listed on that street have only odd or even numbers. If this is the case, check the Enumeration District maps for that county. It may be that your particular street was a dividing line between EDs and the other side of the street was canvassed by a different census taker (different ED).
  • If you find the family but it says “no one home,” look on that line for a notation that says to see a particular sheet and line number. The enumerator was instructed to return to homes where no one was home and these revisits are enumerated beginning on Sheet 71. Even if the ED has only a few pages, you’ll find the sheet’s labeled 71 and higher at the end of the enumeration district images.

FamilySearch has most of the 1950 census images online with the rest to be uploaded over the next day or so. These are browse-only at the moment so you’ll need to know the Enumeration District (see the third bullet point under National Archives above). Search by state, then county, and then pick the ED from the list. Advance from one image to another using the left/right arrows at the top left of each page or choose an image from the thumbnail view. An index will be available starting in a few weeks as volunteers create the index. Join FamilySearch in helping to index the 1950 census!

Ancestry is in the process of creating its own fully searchable index to the 1950 census but in the meantime, you can browse all of the images on their site by state, county, and enumeration district number. Use their ED Finder tool to identify which enumeration districts to search.

Research Another US Census Year:

1950 Census | 1940 Census | 1930 Census1920 Census | 1910 Census | 1900 census | 1890 Census | 1880 Census | 1870 Census | 1860 Census | 1850 Census

©2022 Kimberly Powell. Use of this article elsewhere without permission violates copyright. Short excerpts and links are welcome, with credit and a link back to Learn Genealogy.

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