Take a trip through 1950 Santa Barbara with unredacted census data
Christmas arrived in April of this year for the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society.
Seventy-two years ago, the 1950 decennial census was taken across the country and the results were kept in the National Archives. Collecting information on age, gender, race, occupation, military service, etc., the census provided important data on the US population, but details were not released due to a rule that has kept the details of every census since 1870 private from the public for 72 years.
Now this treasure trove of unredacted information from the mid-20th century has been released, allowing anyone to step back in time and uncover secrets about family stories, famous people or neighbors from the 1950s.
“We have helped other people find their families in the census. At our 1950 census party, I helped someone track down their father at a college,” explained Holly Snyder, chair of outreach at the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society. “It’s exciting to be part of their journey to find their ancestors!”
In 1950, Santa Barbara was a very different place. The town’s population was half of what it is today, and the county’s population was a quarter. UCSB was still “The Santa Barbara College of the University of California” located on the Riviera, moving to Goleta later in 1954 and becoming UCSB in 1958. Lake Cachuma did not yet exist, the Bradbury Dam not forming only to begin construction in 1950. During this time, Goleta was still dominated by large ranches rather than suburban development.
A decade earlier, the 1940 census had asked which households owned a radio, but by 1950 that question had disappeared. Instead, the new census asked different questions about employment and education, as well as questions about military service influenced by the recent end of World War II. Many earlier censuses had asked where people lived five years previously to gain insight into immigration; the 1950 census asked where people had lived a year earlier, as many had served overseas in 1945.
For anyone curious about their family’s past or who lived in their home 72 years ago, the data release offers a unique window into what life was like in Santa Barbara back then. “We tend not to ask our parents and grandparents what it was like back then,” Snyder pointed out. “It’s a great opportunity to start that conversation and capture their stories for future generations.”
Support it Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or one-time contribution.