The 1950 U.S. census will be released on April 1. What to do now to prepare to help create the digital index

Jim Ericson is hoping the 1950 U.S. census can help fill in a hole in his family history. 

He’s been able to figure out where his mother was in 1950, but not his father, who was 20 years old then. His dad had graduated from high school in 1948 and married his mother in December 1951. 

“For a lot of people, they have really real questions that they are looking forward to get answered from the 1950 census,” said Ericson, FamilySearch’s marketing manager for Europe and North America.

The National Archives will release the 1950 U.S. census on Friday, April 1, 2022 — after the required 72-year wait. FamilySearch and Ancestry are partnering to create and publish a digital index of all information in the census.   

Digitizing the census

The process of indexing the 1940 census and the 1950 census will be different, said Jimmy Zimmerman, FamilySearch’s experience manager for North America.

When images of the census are released by the National Archives on April 1, Ancestry workers will use their proprietary artificial intelligence handwriting-recognition technology to scan the census forms, said Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for Ancestry. 

From there, the images will go to FamilySearch for volunteers to help create a digital index of the census through the Get Involved app and web experience to verify and correct information to improve the index. 

Read more: FamilySearch’s new Get Involved app allows you to do simple family history tasks in seconds

The Get Involved experience was launched during RootsTech 2022. Instead of typing in names and other information, Get Involved is designed for volunteers to verify names and make corrections. It can be used in a web browser or on a mobile device.

Organizations, such as a ward, stake or other Church groups, can set up a group to work together. See FamilySearch’s “Opportunities for Church Member Engagement” for information 

“So with the 1940 census, we were really focused on core genealogical fields that would typically be used in a family tree. With the 1950 census, we’re able to capture every single field that is on the page,” Zimmerman said. 

After the digital index is completed, people will be able to search by occupation or see ethnic mixes based on location, Ericson added. They will also be able to “to go down the street and learn about the families that lived near your family,” Ericson said. 

It will likely take a few days for the initial images to be scanned and sent to FamilySearch. Volunteers can sign up at familysearch.org/1950census for updates on when the project is ready, Zimmerman said. 

Also, get familiar with the Get Involved app or web experience, said Zimmerman. 

“The experience is going to be very similar to what you see there if you go in and start reviewing names for the United States,” Zimmerman said. “The name-review process is going to feel very similar to the 1950 census. 

Census records will be published state by state on both Ancestry and FamilySearch, so people won’t have to wait for the whole project to be completed to see it. Ancestry has an enumeration-district map where people can type in an address and see which census district that home is in. 

“It’s kind of fun bookends that we like to share with the 1950 census,” Cowan said. “The 1950 census was the very first census to be processed by computer or tabulated by computer back in the 1950s. So the fact that now in 2022, it will be the first census where we apply handwriting-recognition technology. …. The technology story there is super fascinating.”

A crowd of general conference goers outside the Salt Lake Temple in the early 1950s, less than decade after, conference was practically shutdown during the World War II years.
A crowd of general conference goers outside the Salt Lake Temple in the early 1950s, less than decade after, conference was practically shutdown during the World War II years. Credit: Deseret News Archives/Church His

The 1950 census 

The 1950 census includes more than 150 million people in the United States and territories, including Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, counted by 140,000 enumerators writing information on forms. In this census, efforts were made to count military or government workers overseas. 

For those born before 1975 in the U.S., they likely have a parent listed in the 1950 census if they were U.S. residents, Cowan said. 

“And if you were born before 2000, it’s likely you’ll find a grandparent,” she added. 

And for those who are getting started with building their family trees, who may know the names of their grandparents but not their great-grandparents, “this is an awesome record set to help to bridge that gap to get to the information that they don’t know,” Zimmerman said. 

For Cowan, she’s interested in seeing her father on the census and also where he was living at the time. 

“And then there’s also some mysteries in my family tree,” she said. There’s an aunt who might have been living in Panama at the time, and now Cowan will be able to see that. 

There were many changes from 1940 to 1950 — the end of the Great Depression, and World War II, with women entering the workforce, people migrating and moving for work or when they came back from military service. 

“When you compare what was in the 1940 census, what was in the 1950 census, there could be a story unfold there, that I think it’s gonna be really interesting for a lot of people,” Cowan said. 

Lessons from the 1940 U.S. census 

The 1940 U.S. census was released in 2012 and was expected to take about a year to index, according to the ChurchofJesusChrist.org. The indexing was completed in four months. In all it was published on FamilySearch six months after it was released. 

More than 163,000 volunteers helped with the indexing effort to make the 132 million names searchable. There was also browser-based software that volunteers needed to download. 

“They were quite passionate about the state where they lived or where their ancestors lived,” Ericson said. Utah was indexed in a matter of days, he added. 

And they expect the 1950 census to indexed even faster. 

How to help index the 1950 U.S. census 

Church in 1950

  • Church President: President George Albert Smith 
  • Church membership: 1.1 million 
  • Number of temples: 8