What questions were asked in the 1950 census? In this live video Premiere I’ll explain what was asked, and how the answers given can help provide clues for additional research about your family. You’ll also learn what was not asked and which questions were asked for the first time in 1950. Then we’ll wrap up with my Genealogy Pro Tip for the 1950 Census.
Live Premiere Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Time: 11:00 am CENTRAL
Place: The Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel where you can participate in the Live Chat. You can also watch using the video player below:
We’re all looking forward to the 1950 census coming out in April 2022, followed soon after by the searchable index. But before we dig into it, it’s helpful to know what kinds of questions were asked and what kind of information you can expect to find about you, your parents, your grandparents or even your great grandparents.
If you haven’t watched it already, check out Elevenses with Lisa episode 51 for an overview of the 1950 census.
And I’ll have that video link for you again at the end of this video. And of course the best way to find your own genealogy gems is to follow my genealogy gems channel, so click the YouTube Subscribe button and that will toss me and this channel into your favorites list on YouTube for safe keeping and happy viewing for years to come.
The U.S. Federal Census is taken every 10 years here in the United States. Typically in genealogy we see more and more questions being asked each decade, which is awesome for us as family historians. But did you know that the 1950 population questionnaire actually asked FEWER questions than its predecessor in 1940.
Yep, according to the U.S. Census bureau, in 1940 every household was asked 34 questions. However, in 1950 they were asked just 20 questions. As we go through the questions I’ll let you know what’s the same, what unfortunately you will NOT being seeing, BUT also the few NEW questions that were asked.
The following questions were asked of everyone in the household.
1. Name of street, avenue or road where the household is located
2. Home or apartment number
3. Serial number of dwelling unit
4. Is this house on a farm (or ranch)?
5. If no, is this house on a place of three or more acres? (New question for 1950 thanks to the expansion of suburbia.)
6. Corresponding agriculture questionnaire number
8. Relationship to head
Census takers were instructed to assume that all members of the related household were the same race. For unrelated people they were to ask. And if you see a description you are unfamiliar with, consult the 1950 census enumerator instructions.)
11. How old was this person on his last birthday?
It was expected that there would be some folks who either didn’t know their exact age or didn’t care to share it. Census takers were instructed to try to zero in and get as accurate as possible. If age wasn’t known, they were instructed to enter an estimate as the very last resort, and footnote that it was an estimate.
12. Is this person now married, widowed, divorced, separated, or never married?
Marriage codes found in this column:
MAR = married
WD = widowed
D = divorced
SEP = separated
NEV = never married. People under the age of 14 were automatically labeled as never married. Also, common-law marriages were reported as Married, so while marital status can be an indicator to look for marriage records, it is possible that there may not be any.
13. What State or country was the person born in?
It’s important to note that if the baby was born in a hospital across the state line, they were reported as being born in the state where the family lived. This is important to keep in mind when hunting for birth certificates.
14. If foreign born, is the person naturalized?
This will be a yes or no. But if you see “AP” it means the person was born of American parents abroad or at sea. Also, if born at sea they were an American citizen if their father was, or if they were born after 5/24/1934 and either parent was American.
Before we get to the last six questions which were asked only of people 14 years of age and older, let’s take a look at the questions you might have expected to see that were asked in the previous 1940 census but were not.
These questions include:
- Home owned (O) or rented (R)
- Value of home or monthly rental if rented
- Attended school or college at any time since March 1, 1940?
- Highest grade of school completed
- Residence, April 1, 1935
- City, town or village having 2,600 or more inhabitants. If less, enter “R”
- State (or Territory or foreign country)
You may be wondering why the last 6 questions of the 1950 census were only asked of people over the age of 14. It’s because these questions were about employment status. Not surprisingly, these questions vary a bit from what was asked about in employment in 1940, but they are pretty similar.
- What was this person doing most of last week – working, keeping house, or something else?
Employment Codes used in questions 15:
WK = working
H = keeping house
U = unable to work
OT = other
16. If the person was “keeping house” or “something else” in question 15, did the person do any work at all last week, not counting work around the house? (Including work-for-pay, in his own business, working on a farm or unpaid family work)
17. If the person answered “no” to question 16, was he looking for work?
18. If the person answered “no” to question 17, even if he didn’t work last week, does he have a job or business?
19. If the person was working, how many hours did he or she work in the last week?
20. What kind of work does the person do?
- What kind of business or industry is the person in?
- Class of worker the person is.
- Enumerators were to mark “P” for private employment, “G” for government employment, “O” for own business, or “NP” for working without pay
Here’s an example of an entry you might see for someone’s employment: Jewelry, Salesman, P. Armed forces was used for all types of military service.
The one glaring omission in 1950 is questions about whether the person worked for one of the government program such as the Works Progress Administration known as the WPA or The Civilian Conversation Corp known as the CCC. This actually makes sense because these employment programs were focused on helping the unemployed during the Depression. WWII had most Americans working and doing their part in some fashion creating low unemployment. Therefore, the WPA was ended in 1943.
Let’s quickly recap what you will learn from the answers to the questions asked during the 1950 census that can help you learn more about your family history:
You’ll see the names of your relatives and ancestors, where they lived and the relationships within the family.
You’ll find out where they were living and get the actual address. You can then use this information to find old maps, search city directories and learn much more about their neighborhood and their lives.
If your relatives lived on a farm you’ve got another genealogy gem to find which is their listing in the Agricultural census. Remember the population enumeration, the one counting people, is just one of the enumerations that was conducted. The 1950 population enumeration will give you the number where you can locate them in the agricultural questionnaire.
You’re also going to learn your relative’s age which will get you even closer to determining their birthdate. This in turn will help you locate their birth records. You will also learn the state or country where they were born.
If they were foreign born you will find out if they were naturalized. It’s a little disappointing that it doesn’t tell us the year of immigration or naturalization. However, a “yes” in the “is the person naturalized” column does provide you with an excellent clue to go look for those naturalization records. Learn more about finding and using naturalization records for genealogy in my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast:
Episode 29: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 1.
Genealogy lecturer and blogger Stephen Danko, PhD, begins a 3-part series on U.S. immigration and naturalization records. Learn about passenger arrival lists in the U.S., little-known certificates of arrival and naturalization records: how to find them and what’s in them.
Episode 30: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 2.
Stephen Danko continues this series by focusing on passenger departure records created in European ports. He also talks more in-depth about U.S. naturalization records.
Episode 31: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 3.
Stephen Danko talks in-depth about passenger list annotations and the immigrant’s experience at Ellis Island. You didn’t know what you were missing with those mysterious scribbles on 20th-century passenger manifests!
And finally, you’ll not only find out if they were married and if they had any previous marriages.
After my first video on the 1950 census I got this question from Suzanne:
Will the 1950 census also have the children born to mother/children still living question?
The answer is, maybe.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for additional questions.
As in 1940, 5 percent of the population were asked an additional slate of questions. This was to provide sample data about the population. One of those questions asked was “If female and ever married, how many children has she ever borne, not counting stillbirths?”
Here are the additional questions that were asked of just 5% of the population in the 1950 U.S. Federal Census. (Note: They were asked of all ages.)
21. Was the person living in the same house a year ago? If the answer was no, then…
22. If no to question 21, was the person living on a farm a year ago?
23. If no to question 21, was the person living in the same county a year ago?
24. If no to question 23…
- What county (or nearest place) was he living in a year ago?
- What state or foreign country was he living in a year ago?
25. What country were the person’s mother and father born in?
26. What is the highest grade of school that the person has attended?
- Enumerators were to mark “0” for no school; “K” for kindergarten; “S1” through “S12” depending on the last year of elementary or secondary school attended; “C1” through “C4” depending on the last year of undergraduate college education attended; or “C5” for any graduate or professional school.
27. Did the person finish this grade?
28. Has the person attended school since February 1st?
- Enumerators could check a box for “yes” or “no” for those under thirty; for those over thirty, they were to check a box for “30 or over.”
For members of the household who were 14 years and older, they also answered these questions centered around employment details, money, military service previous marriages and the question Suzanne is hoping to have answered – children born to women in the household.
29. If the person is looking for work, how many weeks has he been looking for work?
30. Last year, how many weeks did this person not work at all, not counting work around the house?
31. Last year, how much money did the person earn working as an employee for wages or salary?
32. Last year, how much money did the person earn working at his own business, professional occupation, or farm?
33. Last year, how much money did the person receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income (aside from earnings)?
34. If this person is the head of the household: last year, how much money did his relatives in this household earn working for wages or salary?
35. If this person is the head of the household: last year, how much money did the person earn working at his own business, professional occupation, or farm?
36. If this person is the head of the household: last year, how much money did the person receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income (aside from earnings)?
37. If male: did he ever serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during…
- World War II
- World War I
- Any other time, including present service
38. To enumerator: if the person worked in the last year, is there any entry in columns 20a, 20b, or 20c?
39. If yes, skip to question 36; if no, make entries for questions 35a, 35b, and 35c.
- What kind of work does this person do in his job?
- What kind or business or industry does this person work in?
- Class of worker
40. If ever married, has this person been married before?
41. If married, widowed, divorced, or separated, how many years since this event occurred?
42. If female and ever married, how many children has she ever borne, not counting stillbirths?
So now you know all the details on what you can look forward to learning about in the 1950 census. If you would like to learn more about the 1950 census, watch The 1950 Census for Genealogy. You can watch the video and get the complete show notes here.
Elevenses with Lisa is a genealogy community, and discussion is a big part of the experience. In the Comments below please share on one of these topics:
- What question are you most looking forward to getting an answer to in the 1950 census?
- Who you’re hoping to find in the 1950 census?
- What question do you have for me about the 1950 census?