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1950 US census goes online

The 1950 US census is now free to search on the National Archives and Records Administration website

US president Joe Biden in the 1950 US census

The 1950 census for the USA, holding records of 150 million people, was released online today for free.

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Unlike the UK, where privacy laws mean census records cannot be published for 100 years, the US census is released after 72 years and is now available on a website run by America’s National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The records, which include images of the original census schedules, can be searched by name and filtered down by state, town, enumeration district or Indian reservation.

However, unlike census records on commercial family history websites, they lack the ability to search by age. This can make it harder to filter the results.

For example, since the records do not redact the names of living individuals, WDYTYA? Magazine searched for US president Joe Biden.

Searching for ‘Joseph Biden’ brought up 400 pages of results, making them hard to find.

However, since we knew the president was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, we entered those details into the search engine under ‘State’ and ‘County/City’, and found the correct record as the first result.

The census results show Joseph Biden, age seven, living at the house of his maternal grandfather AJ Finnegan, with family members including his parents Joseph and Catherine and siblings Mary and James.

The US census records include details of each person’s relationship to the head of household, race, sex, age and marital status and details of their profession.

Following the controversy over transcription errors in the recently released 1921 census for England and Wales, it’s notable that each US census record lists the ‘Machine Learning (AI) Extracted Names’, which also contain errors.

For example, ‘Finnegan, AJ’ is transcribed as ‘tanagan AJ’ and ‘Biden, Frank’, who is listed as a lodger, is transcribed as ‘Biden Drank’.

The NARA is asking members of the public to volunteer to check the computer generated transcriptions, via a ‘Help Us Transcribe Names’ button at the top of the page.

Family history website Ancestry has announced that it will create its own transcriptions of the records using artificial intelligence (AI) technology in partnership with volunteers from free family history website FamilySearch, which will be available later this year.

The release of the 1950 US census is one of several high-profile genealogy record launches in 2022. The 1921 census for England and Wales was released on 6 January, the 1921 census for Scotland is due to be released later this year, and Beyond 2022, the digital reconstruction of the lost Public Records Office of Ireland, will launch on 30 June.

4 April 2022 UPDATE: The 1950 US census has now been added to Ancestry and MyHeritage. The records are not indexed but researchers can browse them by selecting the state, county and populated place. They are currently free to access on both websites, although you have to register for an account.

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Rosemary Collins is the features editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine