Family history researchers are eagerly awaiting the April 1 release of the 1950 census records, and Tuesday, 8 March, a program presented by Blount County Genealogical and Historical Society President Tim Walker will outline the types of information that will be available in this census.
Walker said the first census in the United States was taken in 1790 and then every 10 years thereafter.
“For privacy reasons, census records are not released until 72 years after the data was collected,” Walker said. Since the date of the 1950 census was April 1, the data will be officially released for consultation on April 1, 2022.
“This is really key information for people doing genealogy research, because almost every family in the country will be listed. Some genealogists are almost counting the days. When the 1940 census was released 10 years ago, there were people at every computer in the library, dying to see what they might find.
The program, free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Sharon Lawson Room at the Blount County Public Library. Walker will have a PowerPoint presentation along with a copy of the census form and a 1950 map of Blount County showing all the districts.
“I’m going to go through all the different questions and let people know what kind of information they can expect to see,” Walker said. “I’m going to do a little preamble and get into the historical context of census records, around the world and in the United States, and some of the major changes that have happened over the years. I’m not reviewing all the 10 year periods, but if there was a significant change from one census to the next, I will discuss what that entailed and how we had progressed to 1950.”
Walker said each census has a particular date, which can vary from census to census. Before 1950, some of them took place in January or until October. “The dates have changed over the years, but they’ve probably been standardized since around 1950,” he said.
The 1950 census provides information on members of each household as of April 1, although the data was collected much later. “For example, if someone died after April 1, they would be counted; or if a child was born after April 1, technically they shouldn’t be counted even though they sometimes are,” Walker said.
“Each census is a little different in what they ask for,” he said. “The government is mainly looking for statistics; it’s not just a count. Obviously they want to establish what the population is across the country so that your House of Representatives numbers across the country are broken down by population. Individual states are allowed to redefine their district boundaries based on census records, for example.
For family history researchers, however, census records are valuable tools for tracing their roots.
“Census records are probably one of the readily available records,” Walker said. “There are several websites that have made them available electronically. For years and years almost every county library purchased census microfilm as it became available.
“The census gives you a family snapshot every 10 years. It shows where they lived and, based on the census you’re looking at, who the children were at that time and how old they were, so you can approximate the birth dates of these people, see what communities they lived in. It is probably one of our basic tools in genealogical research.
BCGHS Treasurer Max Renfro provided Walker with information on websites where the census can be found once it is made public by the National Archives (www.archives.gov).
“This year’s release will be a bit different than it has been in the past,” Renfro said. “In the past, it took websites like Family Search or Ancestry several months to come in and index it, because without indexing it’s very difficult for people to use it. But the National Archives, which is a government agency, has purchased equipment that will be able to scan and index documents using optical character recognition/artificial intelligence. This way they will post it on their website which will make it easier for everyone.
Walker will talk more about the website where researchers can find census information during the program.
Renfro said the program would benefit anyone unfamiliar with census records, including people who are just starting their research. “This census is the first I will take part in,” he said. “I was born in 1949. It will be the one a lot of people will be in for the first time, or maybe for some of the younger ones their parents will be for the first time.
“In my opinion, if you’re doing genealogical research, the census is probably one of the most valuable tools you can have,” he said.