Episode 118 Resources: The Count: Forecasting the Future with the 1940 and 1950 US Census

In this fourth episode in our Dawn of a New Decade series, we’ll cover the most recently released census and how to prepare for the release of 1950 in 2022.

Previous Episodes

1940 US Census

  • Released April 2, 2012
  • “With regard to race, the only change from 1930 was that Mexicans were to be listed as White unless they were definitely Indian or some race other than White.”
  • Removed: Parents birthplace for most of those enumerated 
  • Added: Location in 1935 (captures Great Migration)
  • Person who provided the information: marked with an X
  • Supplemental Questions for Selected People
    • “It should be noted that questions 35 through 50 were asked only of a 5% sample of the population.”
    • Parents place of birth
    • Veterans Status
    • Native Tongue
    • If the person had a social security number
    • Usual occupation and industry
    • Age at first marriage (same with 1930)
    • Number of children ever born
  • Updates to Employment Questions (Great Depression): Columns 21-33
    • Persons 14 years old and over (versus 10-13 in 1930 and 16 years + on later censuses)
      • 1930 gainful employment concept versus 1940 employment status
      • Workers for relief agencies: Column 22
      • Not Working: Column 25
        • H – Housework
        • U – Unable to Work
        • S – Student
        • Ot – Other
      • Class of Worker: Column 30 
        • PW – Wage or salary worker in private work
        • GW – Wage or salary worker in government work
        • E – Employer
        • OA – Work on Own Account
        • NP – Unpaid family worker
        • NW – New Worker
  • Income questions
  • Highest level of education attained: Column 14
  • Value/rent
  • “According to census reports, the black undercount was estimated at 8.4 percent in 1940, meaning that a population counted at 12.9 million was more like 14.1 million. The undercount for the nonblack population was 5 percent, or about 6.3 million people. The total undercount for all races was 7.5 million.”
  • Alternatives to capture the same data on the 1940 Census
    • Newspapers
    • Local or State Level Records (Vital Records) 
    • City Directories
    • WWII Related – Draft Cards, Enlistments, Hospital Records, etc.
    • Yearbooks and Educational Related
    • Social, Fraternal, Mutual Aid Organization Records
    • Death Related (Mortuary/Funeral Home, Cemeteries)

1940 US Census Rollout Review

1950 US Census

Official Census Day: April 1, 1950

Release date: April 1, 2022

“The 1950 Censuses involved visits to 45 million homes to get information on more than 150 million people and their dwellings as well as on more than five million farms. The total cost of this work was over 90 million dollars. More than 160 thousand people were involved in carrying out this program.”

“The 1950 census encompassed the continental United States, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, American Samoa, the Panama Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and some of the smaller island territories.”

“Americans abroad were enumerated for the first time in 1950. Provisions were made to count members of the armed forces, crews of vessels, and employees of the United States government living in foreign countries, along with any members of their families also abroad. This enumeration was carried out through cooperative arrangements with the departments of Defense and State, the United States Maritime Administration and other federal agencies that took responsibility for distributing and collecting specially designed questionnaires.”

  • “The enumerator was instructed to determine race by observation; only in case of doubt was he to ask a question. For most races, he entered an abbreviation in item 9 of the population (Pl) schedule, ‘Negro’ was returned for persons of mixed Negro and Indian blood unless the Indian blood very definitely predominated and the person was accepted in the community as an Indian. American Indians were so reported if the Indian blood was one-fourth or more, or if they were regarded as Indians in the community where they lived. Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and other races were identified as such. Persons with mixed white and nonwhite parentage were given the race of the nonwhite parent, and where both parents were nonwhite the race of the father was reported.” 
  • “In certain communities in the Eastern United States, persons of mixed ancestry are locally recognized by special names such as ”Moor”, ”Siouian”, “Croatan,” ”Tunica”, etc. The enumerator entered the appropriate name in item 9 and when the portfolio was received for editing, the screener pasted a ‘Mixed Stock” label on it. The race entries were then specially coded.
  • “White persons with Spanish surname are not a racial group but separate information on these persons was needed for special studies. As a matter of convenience, they were identified in the column in which race was normally coded. This was done only in five Southwestern States {Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas), A list of common Spanish surnames was used as a guide. The coder also examined entries in State or country of birth (item 13) and parents’ birthplace (item 25) for contributing information. Race entries were manually coded only for the 5 Southwestern States and the “Mixed Stock” communities.”
  • Some enumerators did not know Puerto Rico was a United States possession and entered an answer for citizenship. Many of these errors slipped through the coding operation; so the tabulating machines were wired to reject Puerto Rican cards which were punched incorrectly. The mechanical edit was limited to New York State, where about 90 percent of the Puerto Ricans in the continental United States live.
  • Prepping for 1950 Census
    • Establishing where your family was in 1950
    • Overall Sheet Changes
      • Section E: “Hotel, Large Rooming House, Institution, Military Installation , etc.”
        • Line numbers for each are noted
      • “Household continued on next sheet”
      • Area for notes
    • Asks for a specific order of people in the household (implied with other census’ but not always consistent)
      • The head
      • His wife
      • Unmarried sons and daughters in order of age 
      • Married sons and daughters and their families
      • Other relatives
      • Other persons, such as lodgers, roomers, maides or hired hands who live in, and their relatives
    • Columns 15-20b were only for people age 14 years or older (same with 1940)
    • “Changes from 1940 were few. Special pains were taken in the 1950 census, however, to distinguish among institutions, households, and quasi households (five or more nonrelatives of the head, other than employees).”
    • “College students were to be enumerated where they lived while attending school, rather than where their homes were located. 
    • “Members of the Armed Forces who slept off post would be counted where they slept rather than where they were stationed. 
    • “The instructions continued to allow anyone to be designated as head of the household for relationship purposes, but if a woman was listed as head and her husband was present, he was reclassified as the head when the completed schedule was reviewed in the office. (At the time, the number of such cases was relatively small.)”
    • “A ‘‘family’’ was distinguished from a ‘‘household’’ in that the family represented a group of two or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption. A household could contain one or more families, or none, but would occupy only one dwelling unit (quarters with separate cooking equipment or (new for 1950) a separate entrance.)”
    • “A supplemental schedule (form P8) was used to obtain additional information on Indian reservations. In addition to entering each person’s name as it appeared on the regular schedule, the enumerator wrote in any other name(s) by which that person was known.” 
    • Sample Lines (Supplemental questions) asked again for six people per page
      • Residence Questions (Great Migration info for 1949)
        • Was he living in this same house a year ago? – column 21
        • Was he living on a farm a year ago?  – column 22
        • Was he living in this same county a year ago?  – column 23
          • If no marked for, column 23
          • “What county and state was he living in a year ago?” – column 24a and 24b
        • “What country were his father and mother born in?” – column 25
        • Education Questions – columns 26-28
          • “What is the highest grade of school that he has attended?” – Asked of everyone in 1940 but only supplementary on this one
          • “Did he finish this grade?”
          • “Has he attended school at any time since February 1st?”
        • Jobs and Occupations Questions – columns 29-32c
          • “Last year, how much money did he receive from interest, dividends, veteran’s allowances, pensions, rents, or other income?” (same question asked for family members)
          • GI Bill signed into law in 1944 – “benefits including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans and financial support” for World War II veterans
          • Juxtapose amount listed for white veterans in this area versus Black or other
        • Military Questions – columns 33a-33c
          • Korean War began in 1950
          • “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
        • Line 29 Surprise
          • Additional questions regarding employment
          • “If ever married, has this person been married more than once” – column 36
          • Column 37
          • “If married – how many years since this person was last married?”
          • “If widowed – how many years since this person was widowed?”
          • “If divorced – how many years since this person was divorced?”
          • “If separated – how many years since this person was separated?”
          • Number of years or less than year
          • Column 38
          • “If female and ever married, how many children has she ever borne, not counting stillbirths?”
          • Number of children or none
  • Stay tuned for a webinar from National Archives within a week of the official release (around March 29th or so)

Episode Resources:

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