The secret data from the 1950 census will be revealed on Friday.
And after finishing a month later, abiding by a rule that required confidentiality, they locked down the results for 72 years.
Data will include names, ages, addresses, and answers to questions about employment status, job description, and income.
Women were asked, if they were married, how many children they had had. People were asked where they worked, where their parents were born, how much money they earned and how much money the parents at home have earned. They were asked about their education.
The information should be available and searchable online after publication at 12:01 a.m. Friday, officials said.
It’s a “beautiful snapshot in time,” said Crista Cowan, corporate genealogist for the Ancestry.com website.
“The 1950 census is this really important opportunity for people to reconnect with some of their past,” she said. “It captures what was happening in [a] household, what was the construction of the family.
It should be a goldmine for scholars and genealogists, according to the Census Bureau, and will provide a fascinating look at America in the mid-20th century.
“It’s a really big deal,” said Lisa Louise Cooke, a prominent Texas-based genealogist and podcaster.
“As a rule, people interested in their family history always look at deceased people,” she said Tuesday. “This [census] The collection includes many people who are currently alive today… so there is a huge nostalgia component.
“They’re going to see each other” in the records, she said. “They are going to see their parents. They go to see people they may have recently lost. … This is going to, for a lot of people, bring back a lot of memories.
Cooke said major genealogy companies like Ancestry, MyHeritage.com and FamilySearch will likely have census data “instantly.”
An estimated 26 million Americans living in the country in 1950 are still alive, according to MyHeritage.
People who were babies when counted in 1950 are, if still alive, now in their 60s. Their parents, possibly recently married in 1950, are probably deceased. But they will all be there, captured in April.
The 72-year time limit appears to have been designed to protect the private information of individuals listed in the census. It wasn’t necessarily the length of a supposed lifespan, according to the Archives. And it is not known why the number 72 was chosen.
“They never really say what the reason is,” Cooke said of government records covering the issue.
But tons of statistical information from the census was not subject to the rule and was used to generate dozens of government reports.
The United States was a nation on the verge of change — “one of the most transformative periods in modern American history,” Marc Perry, senior demographer at the Census Bureau, said in a recent webinar.
In Washington, for example, only 28% of households had a television, according to statistical data gleaned from the census. But 97% had a radio.
Many houses were still heated with coal. Seven thousand homes in the district had neither bathtubs nor showers.
Seven thousand homes lacked flush toilets – more than 5,000 in non-white households, according to census statistics.
More than 3,000 homes in Washington still had no electric lighting.
And in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, more than 3,500 homes lacked running water.
In many ways, this year’s census – only three months into 1950 – was a step backwards. World War II had only lasted four and a half years and the Great Depression had only ended a decade earlier.
“On many… fronts, the American population in 1950 looked more like the country in 1940 than the young, rapidly growing nation to come in 1960 or 1970,” Perry said.
“With little housing construction over the previous two decades, the country’s population lived mostly in cities and rural areas, often in crowded conditions,” he said. In Washington, 52,000 homes had only three rooms.
“Suburbanization had only recently begun.” he said. And, although there are 28 million children under the age of 10, the demographic “baby boom”—1946 and 1964—has only just begun.
The 1950 census was the 17th in the country. It has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, by order of the US Constitution.
Since then, the geographical center of population of the country had shifted steadily westward. In 1950 it was outside Olney, Illinois, 150 miles southwest of Indianapolis. As of 2020, it was about 300 miles west of Olney near Hartville, Mo.
It was a country still largely devoid of air conditioning. Most women of working age – about 70% – were not in the labor force. Almost 90% of family households were married couples. Few people lived alone, just 9% of households, according to Perry of the Census Bureau.
Eighty-nine percent of those counted were white – a figure that had fallen to 57.8 percent in 2020.
Perhaps the greatest focus of the 1950 census was on how people made their living, said Cooke, the genealogist: “How the industry changed, how the financial situation of the country changed after World War II.”
The enumerators came out armed with the fountain pen they must have and a double-sided 19 by 22 inch form, called P1, a “Population and Housing Census“.
It was printed in green letters on a white background. Ten million copies were produced, according to census records. Enumerators were sent to visit people wherever they lived or stayed – homes, apartments, hotels, Indian reservations, boats, tents and railroad cars.
(Native Americans on reservations were asked on a separate form if they were “full blood, half full, quarter half, less than ¼”. They were also asked if in 1949 they had participated in or attended ” native Indian ceremonies”. ”)
The front of the P1 form posed the personal questions, the answers to which constitute Friday’s publication.
The back of the form asked occupants questions about the accommodation – running water, toilets, baths, radios, televisions, electric lights and refrigerators.
The enticing answers to these questions have only been used for statistical purposes. The backs of the forms were not microfilmed and “were not preserved”, according to the Archives.
“After the Census Bureau made copies of microfilms, they often destroyed the originals,” the Archives said in a blog post in February.
Sharon Tosi Lacey, Census Bureau Chief Historian, said: “We’re not 100% sure why. But I suspect it was a matter of time and money. Millions and millions of discs are expensive to microfilm and take a long time, and they only processed the fronts.
1950 census takers were warned not to discuss politics or “controversial topics” with respondents.
But they were advised to be firm.
“Act as if you expect the required information to be provided,” read one instruction manual. “Avoid arguments or prolonged discussions with the respondent. »
And “under no circumstances should you become angry or engage in arguments or threats,” the manual says.