May 13 – National Census Bureau’s 1950s census data becomes publicly available | fwbusiness
With the 1950 census finally available to the public, it’s an exciting opportunity at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.
The 1950 census was released on April 1, 72 years after the census, in accordance with the 1942 rule agreement between the United States Census Bureau and the National Archives that balances the need for the release of federal records and privacy protection, according to the National Census Bureau’s website.
Thus, prior to this census, the most recent census publication dates back to 2012, when the 1940 census became available.
According to the acting director of general services at the Allison County Public Library Genealogy Center, Allison DePrey Singleton, the information available will help people shed light on many aspects of life at the time.
“The census is an invaluable piece of history on so many levels, you can use it to understand our community, our ethnic groups, our country, anything you can study, really,” she said.
Although it may seem like a bunch of insignificant data, the census allows people to get a glimpse of life in the 1950s, for example, how neighborhoods were organized and the occupations people had.
Singleton describes it as “watching a snapshot of history”.
The questions asked during the census are an example of this. For example, the 1930 census asked how many households owned radio sets, while the 1940 census asked how many households received assistance through the New Deal program established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The 1950 census specifically asked about employment and income, especially with more women working after World War II.
The census is useful for people studying their own family history; this can help families discover unknown and, sometimes, even illegitimate family members that they would not otherwise have known.
Having the 1950 census is also useful since genealogists can now compare it to the 1940 census, from a pre-war to a post-war point of view.
With so much new information at hand, Singleton has already held public briefings. Two sessions have already taken place and a third is in preparation.
Locally, several well-known Fort Wayne families are listed in the census, including the Bass family who owned the Bass Foundry and the Mungovan family.
Nationally, stars such as Roberto Clemente, Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball and Harry Truman are all listed in the census. Presley would have been 15 at the time.
“Anyone with a well-known business would have been there,” Singleton said.
According to Singleton, having the census almost entirely digital in a cloud service makes it even easier to access the information, compared to previous census dates that weren’t already in digitized form.
However, some census information is still indexed, according to Singleton, volunteers updating counting districts. The information will be freely available online once fully indexed.
For Fort Wayne volunteer Michael Vorndran, it was a fun experience.
Vorndran is also president of the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana.
“In the past, our company has always manually indexed the census (for Allen County),” Vorndran said.
The group currently has 15 indexers within the organization. He estimates that they are 45% complete with indexing the census.
“With 15 indexers indexing 10 pages a day, we should be done in seven weeks. There is more work than you think,” he added.
Each page contains about 30 rows, but there are a total of 7,061 sheets that need to be indexed globally. Back then, Fort Wayne would have had an official population of 183,722, compared to 343,000 today.
“We log in and click on our name. All we do is put the name, surname, initials, then hit save. It’s automatically live once you click save and publicly available,” Vorndran said.
One of the biggest challenges was reading the handwriting, which is cursive.
“It’s hard to read depending on the part of town,” he said.
One big change he noticed while indexing was the fact that butlers and maids often lived in the house; in addition, many people resided in boarding houses, including Vorndran’s own grandmother, who used to rent a room from a man from Ohio.
Popular names at the time included Donald, while many girls were named after their mothers. Also important to note, he said, was that Hispanics were all listed as white.
“It was rare to see someone in their late 80s still alive. They would have been born during the Civil War,” he said.
One famous local person he has listed so far is Ann Colone, who would have been 19 at the time. Colone, who died in 2007 at the age of 77, was a well-known entertainer who interviewed the Beatles, Presley and many other high-profile musical groups during her career.
Another difficulty is searching records to match names.
“I even had to look up property records from the Allen County Assessors Office,” Vorndran said.
For more information about the Allen County Genealogical Society of Indiana and its census work, visit www.acgsi.org. The organization also offers free educational programs online.