Man in suit gathering1950 US Census records from farmer on a tractor

The 1950 US Census: What You Need To Know

Find your ancestors in the 1950 US census. Learn where they lived and the details about their post-war life. Perhaps find yourself!

Census records do more than tell us where our ancestors were at a particular time and place. They have the stories of our ancestors woven into them. Family structure, careers, migration… all can be found within the pages.

Why Genealogy Researchers Love Census Records

Census records put our ancestors in time and place. Tracking ancestors back through the decades and generations is thrilling. We find children in their parents’ household. We find clues to birth, marriage and death dates.

We find our ancestors’ stories tucked away in those columns of information! For me? It’s those stories waiting to be uncovered that really draws me in.

But, what else can we find in the census records – especially the 1950 census?

As genealogy researchers and family historians, you are quite familiar with census records. You use them often in tracking your ancestors and their migration patterns in the US.

So, it’s important to understand the nuances of the information gathered and how that information was gathered for the census.

What Areas are Covered by the 1950 Census? 

Consider what areas were covered by the 1950 census. You might be surprised to learn in addition to the continental US,  what territories were included, too.

Remember, Alaska and Hawaii were not even states yet at the time of the 1950 census. The US also had other territories as well.

What Was Covered by the 1950 Census? 

  • Continental United States, 
  • The territories of Alaska and Hawaii, 
  • American Samoa, 
  • Guam, 
  • Panama Canal Zone, 
  • Puerto Rico, and 
  • Virgin Islands.
1950 man in suit and hat gathering 1950 census information from farmer sitting on a tractor
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How is the 1950 Census different from the 1940 census?

The 1950 census is quite similar to the 1940 census in the questions asked, but there are some notable differences you will want to be aware of.

  • In 1950, 6 people (14+ years of age) were asked sample questions as opposed to 2 on the 1940 census. You will also notice the last sample line asks the individual for different information.
  • In 1950 only the 6 people in the sample questions were asked where they lived in the previous year. In the 1940 census, everyone was asked where they resided in 1935
  • In the 1940 census, only the sample lines were asked if they were a military veteran, wife or widow of a military veteran, or a child (under age 18) of a military veteran. In 1950 only the men on the sample lines were asked if they served in the military. 
  • According to the National Archives site, the instructions and training for the 1950 census takers was much more extensive than previous years. It will be interesting to see if you as a researcher notice fewer errors in the records.

Were Americans Living Abroad Included in the 1950 Census?

Did you have ancestors living outside of the US during the 1950 census? Consider whether they would have be captured in the census.

For military personnel and Americans employed by the US government living abroad, a separate form was used – the P-5 Overseas Census Report. These forms were enumerated for statistical reports only. And this information was not transcribed on the general population census.

Unlike the 1921 census of England and Wales, the US census did not enumerate visitors in a household, tourists, and hotel guests.

What about college students living away from home?

According to the NARA website, By 1950, nearly 2.3 million students were enrolled in a college or university. So, essentially, many students had 2 homes.

How did the 1950 census account for that? College students were enumerated at their college residences as they continued to be going forward.

This is a great opportunity to learn a bit about your ancestor’s education and where they attended college/university. Don’t assume your ancestor was missed in their parents’ home if you suspect they attended college.

Complete your census research by checking further in the record for them.

Black and white photo of female census taker in hat gathering information from woman at the door

What Questions Were Asked on the 1950 Census?

So, what information was asked of the general population by the census takers? After all, this is the information researchers are in the records to find. Right?

Here is a sample of what is asked in the 1950 census.

  • 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)
  • For those over 14 years of age, questions about occupation and industry were asked.
  • The 6 sample lines were also asked about previous living situations and education.

Find the full listing of questions asked including the sample questions on the NARA website.

Genealogy Pro Tip

When you find your ancestors in the 1950 census, take your time and gather the information from every single column! Don’t grab your ancestor and run!

If you want to learn more about the 1950 census check out the following video.

Learn More About Using Census Records in Your Genealogy Research

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