LOCALIZE IT: A guide to shaping 1950 census release coverage

Via AP news wire
Friday 01 April 2022 14:25

It was the first census after World War II. The baby boom had begun. The Great Migration of Black residents from the Jim Crow South to places like Detroit and Chicago was in full swing. And some industrial cities reached their peak populations before Americans started moving to the suburbs.

Starting Friday, genealogists and historians get an under-the-microscope look at those sweeping historical trends with the release of individual records on 151 million people from the 1950 census. Researchers view the records as a gold mine and a snapshot in time, while amateur genealogists see it as a way to fill gaps in family trees.

Your readers, viewers and listeners can find out where their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were living, how many people lived in their homes, how much money their households were earning and what types of jobs they — and their neighbors — held 72 years ago.

Here are some ways to localize reporting on the records release by the National Archives and Records Administration. Local stories could run alongside the AP story, US—Census-1950 Records.

WHAT’S IN THE RECORDS?

The records have information about household members’ names, race, sex, age, address, occupations, hours worked in the previous week, salaries, education levels, marital status and the country in which their parents were born.

WHY THE 72-YEAR WAIT?

No one is quite sure why this exact number was chosen. The 72-year rule was part of a 1952 agreement between the archivist of the U.S. at the time and the Census Bureau director at the time, but no one seems to know how they settled on that number. The point of the delay is to protect some information people may not want to be made public at the time of the count.

WHERE DO I FIND THE RECORDS?

The National Archives and Records Administration is posting a link to a website with the records here: https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950?utm_campaign=20220328msprts1ccpuprs&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.

BE CAREFUL

Claire Kluskens, a digital projects archivist at the National Archives, acknowledges that what will be on the website starting Friday is “a first draft,” in which specific people are most likely to be found initially only by searching for whoever was listed as the head of their household. For instance, if former President George W. Bush wanted to find information about his West Texas home in 1950, he would have to start by searching under the name of his father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush. The National Archives website will include a tool allowing users to fix any incorrect names or add missing names.

Two outside genealogical groups, Ancestry and FamilySearch, a division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have teamed up to serve as a quality check on the records by creating their own index separate from the National Archives. Anywhere from 400,000 to 800,000 volunteers across the U.S., under the coordination of FamilySearch, will then double-check the entries with the actual digital images. The effort, though, could take six to nine months.

WHERE ELSE CAN I FIND HELP?

Many communities have genealogical societies whose members are enthusiastic about helping people track down records or explaining what records mean. The National Genealogical Society has a directory that allows you to find a genealogical organization near you: https://ngsmembers.ngsgenealogy.org/Societies-and-Organizations-Directory2?sso=.

FamilySearch also has a website where you can find local family history centers or affiliate libraries: https://www.familysearch.org/fhcenters/locations/.

PHOTOS

Photos from the era are an important component for visual storytelling. The AP has a deep, searchable archive of historic photos: https://www.apimages.com/historical-photo-archive.

STORY IDEAS

—Find out where hometown celebrities or notable people were living in your communities in 1950 and what their households were like. Find out who lived in President Joe Biden’s childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania or how many siblings singer Dolly Parton had in Sevier County, Tennessee in 1950.

—Compare how your community — or a neighborhood — today differs from 72 years ago. In 1950, the U.S. had less than half of the 332 million residents it has today. Households were larger, with an average of 3.5 people, compared with 2.6 people per household in 2019. You can find historical census data about your state or community here: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/decade/decennial-publications.1950.htm l.

—Supplement the data with your own reporting to uncover disparities in income based on race, gender or for other reasons. Are there instances where two people doing the same job had dramatically different incomes?

And you can find data from the most recent census in 2020 here: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/decade/2020/2020-census-results.html.

—Find a family whose living members span several generations to talk about how their family life has changed in the past 72 years. Or, if you can find a family who has lived in the same home across the generations, show them the entry from 1950 for their family and interview them about their memories of the people listed.

—Contact professional genealogists or historical societies in your area to see what excites them about this data — and what stories it can tell about the communities you cover.

—Find a member of the genealogical community in your area who is participating in the FamilySearch effort to index the records. Ask them what areas of your community they want to focus on and why.

IN CLOSING, A CAVEAT

As mentioned above, census records are never infallible, and they relied on the accuracy of both census-takers and the households that provided the information. So if people can’t find an ancestor — or if information is contradictory — that may not mean that long-held beliefs about a person or a family are wrong, only that the data isn’t 100% accurate.

___

Localize It is an occasional feature produced by The Associated Press for its customers’ use. Questions can be directed to Ted Anthony at tanthony@ap.org.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in