PHOENIX — By law, US Census records are kept secret for 72 years. So professional and amateur genealogists alike rejoiced when this past Friday all the records from the 1950 decennial census were released to the public.
While the records themselves are old, the way in which the National Archives has made the data searchable is not. For the first time census pages were put through a machine learning algorithm that extracted the names on each page line by line. Here are some tips on how to search through the data to find your old family records.
The search begins at 1950census.archives.gov. On the search page queries can be narrowed geographically by state, county, and in some instances, city. Under the location options you can put in the first and/or last name of the relative you are trying to find. If you are searching with the last name of a married couple or entire family, it will only appear with the head of household. Being that this census was done in 1950, this will almost certainly be a male relative.
Your search result will likely bring up a lot of results. Possible matches will be in “Machine Learning (AI) Extracted Names.” The National Archive notes that the spelling of the name is unimportant since the algorithm will also output what it thinks are close matches. A helpful note: family members or other people living in the house can be found directly adjacent to the person you are searching for.
Using A Map to Narrow Down the Search
In many cases, you will find that even if you know the state, county, city, and name there will still be too many results to sift through. This is where a free service from ancestry.com comes in handy. They created a map of every enumeration district from the 1950 census across the country. If you can find your relative’s address, or even just major cross streets, the map will give you the district’s number. Adding this number to the search on the National Archive’s site should be enough to bring up the correct results.
If you are unable to find your relatives using the national archive page, you will eventually have another option. Major genealogy websites like ancestry.com are currently in the process of indexing all of the records. The process will take several months and while the search will likely be free as it is for the 1940 census, they are private companies so you will be presented with subscription options.