1950 census site is no joke
The Legal Genealogist freely admits it.
I was a skeptic.
I really truly didn’t expect the 1950 census release by the U.S. National Archives (NARA) to go smoothly.
In fact, at 10:22 p.m. EDT yesterday, I posted a snarky “let’s take bets. How long does it take for the genealogical community to crash the NARA 1950 census website after the clock hits midnight in the east?” comment on Facebook.1
I mean, first off, this was a huge release: more than 151 million people recorded on more than 6.4 million pages that had to be digitized, including paper records and 6,373 microfilm census rolls.2
Second, NARA was promising not just to make all of the images available — but also to produce a rudimentary search engine with an index from optical character recognition/artificial intelligence (OCR/AI) for handwriting recognition.
Third, it’s not as if there haven’t been a whole swath of problems added by the staffing issues and facility closures due to the pandemic.
Fourth, it’s not as if most of us didn’t have painful memories of the 1940 release, with constant technical glitches.
And finally, well, I mean, it was being released on April Fool’s Day, 1 April 2022.3
So I confess: when I headed over to NARA’s 1950 census website just after midnight Eastern time, my expectations were low. I figured that, if I found one of the four target households I wanted by the time I was willing to throw in the towel and get some sleep, that would be a Very Good Thing.
Color me major-league impressed.
I started out trying to find my parents and older sister in Colorado. An Ancestry enumeration district (ED) finder for their most likely location as of 1 April 1950 told me they’d be in ED 30-19. So I navigated right to that and went page by page through 34 pages. And got nothing. So I went over to the ED list for the less likely of the two Colorado addresses I had, and again zilch.
Time to try the search engine. Using Geissler and Jefferson County, it was “No records found.” Same search term and Arapahoe County and it was “No records found.” Same search in the entire State of Colorado, and there were fewer than a dozen hits, and none of them mine.
So… off to Virginia to find my grandparents. Page by page through ED 33-3 in rural Fluvanna County. And time travel for sure. So many surnames I knew from a million summers spent with my grandparents at their farm. Kent. Holland. Richardson. Cosner. Marks. But I wasn’t at all sure I’d find Cottrell — my one surviving aunt said she was pretty sure they’d moved from Texas to Virginia by Easter 1950, Easter that year was 9 April — and the census date was 1 April.
But… there they were. Seven brand-new Texas-to-Virginia transplants: Clay R. and Opal E. Cottrell, both age 51, and their five youngest children: Carol R, age 18; Jerry L., age 15; Marianne, age 13; Michael V., age 11; and — making her first census appearance — my youngest and one surviving aunt, Patricia E., age 7.4
Next up, my great grandmother Eula Robertson. Since she wasn’t yet living with my grandparents in Virginia, I figured I’d test out the search engine. I used the most likely location, and chose filters for Oklahoma, Tillman County, and surname Robertson. And bam: the index worked perfectly. There she was, living next door to her sister and brother-in-law, Susie and Will Kidwell.5
Ditto with my older half-brother. I figured I’d give the search engine a real test by just selecting Illinois, Chicago, Cook County, and entering his name. There were 681 hits. His was the sixth on the list.6
And, I discovered, the search engine also worked to turn up my Cottrell grandparents back in Virginia.
So… now I have to find my parents and my sister.7 Back to the index, and now I’m going to try other search terms. I was pretty sure they were in Jefferson County, Colorado, so I focused on that. Tried my father’s first name: 31 hits, none of ’em mine. Tried my mother’s first name: 65 hits, none of ’em mine.
Tried my sister’s first name: 26 hits — none in the enumeration district I expected. But I went through them, one by one, anyway. And there she was. Age one year. Born in Colorado. And living exactly where I thought they’d be: 1806 Arapahoe Street in Golden, Jefferson County, Colorado — which was in ED 30-17, not 30-19.8
Now… why I didn’t find her and my parents searching for the surname or my parents’ first names points out the limits of the machine-created index. Hugo and Hazel Geissler are indexed as Hugar and Hegel Guisler. But, in the defense of the index, when I searched again for the surname spelled Geisler, rather than Geissler, it did come up even with that mangled indexing. So a little bit of creativity in searching is going to help here. And we can add our own transcriptions to the index to make it better.9
So… my main targets — in four states and four households — all found in less than an hour.
Yep. Color me major-league impressed, for sure. NARA’s 1950 census website is fast, it’s stable, the index is a huge help, and there’s a ton of help available, including a whole set of resources we can get to from the main page, under the Resources tab.
Well done, NARA. Very very well done.
The 1950 NARA census site is absolutely no joke…
And I expect to be spending many hours doing some time travel with NARA.
Back to the year 1950.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Time travel with NARA,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 1 Apr 2022).
- Judy G. Russell, status update, Facebook, 31 Mar 2022 ( : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- “1950 Census Fact Sheet: 1950 Census by the numbers,” Press Kits, U.S. National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- No, it wasn’t chosen for that reason. It was because the census is closed for 72 years from the enumeration date, and the enumeration date for the 1950 census was 1 April 1950. See “History › Through the Decades › Overview › 1950 Overview,” U.S. Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/ : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- 1950 U.S. census, Fluvanna County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 33-3, sheet 13, dwelling 134, Clay R. Cottrell household; digital image, Archives.gov (https://1950census.archives.gov/ : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- 1950 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 103-1206, sheet 6, dwelling 49, Evan Geissler, in the household of his grandfather Edward Anderson; digital image, Archives.gov (https://1950census.archives.gov/ : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- 1950 U.S. census, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 30-17, sheet 8, dwelling 93, Diana M. Geissler; digital image, Archives.gov (https://1950census.archives.gov/ : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- You have no idea. My sister would kill me if I don’t find that record. ↩
- 1950 U.S. census, Golden, Jefferson County, Colorado, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 30-17, sheet 8, dwelling 93, Diana M. Geissler; digital image, Archives.gov (https://1950census.archives.gov/ : accessed 1 Apr 2022). ↩
- Yes, of course, I did correct my parents’ and sister’s entries. ↩