Community Archivists Support 1950 US Census Indexing Efforts

In the 1950s, recently-collected 1950 Decennial Census was used for distribution of government money and reapportionment and redistricting of seats in Congress. These data have been available in summary form for decades but not accessible at the individual level—until now. 

In response to this much anticipated release, the 1950 US Census Community Project (a joint initiative between FamilySearch and Ancestry, and other leading genealogy societies and organizations) is coordinating efforts to make the scans available for searching as quickly as possible. Princeton University Library (PUL) hosted two events recently to participate in this Community Project.

Volunteers gather at Princeton Public Library’s Tech Center for a PUL/PPL event to help validate 1950 US Census records.

The first event, hosted in conjunction with Princeton Reunions, was held by PUL on May 21 at Stokes Library; the second was co-hosted with Princeton Public Library (PPL) on July 17 at the Sands Library Building. Both events attracted about a dozen citizens interested in helping review and verify the data captured by machines. 

Digitized population schedule from 1950 US Census, with lines highlighted in blue for validation by human reviewers.

Digitized population schedule from 1950 US Census.

Ancestry and FamilySearch have used cutting-edge technology to scan and index 150 million handwritten responses from this census. However, the resulting searchable text is not perfect and requires human transcription and review. According to Elana Broch, Public Policy Librarian at PUL, “these Population Schedules can be difficult to read. The legibility of the enumerator’s handwriting varies greatly and the text is often obscured by handwritten flourishes from letters on the line above or below. This is where human reviewers come in.” At both events, volunteer reviewers confirmed the accuracy of those lists and made necessary corrections. Name Review was the focus of the first event, while the second event focused on addresses and additional fields.

“We always enjoy welcoming history and family history enthusiasts to PPL,” said Nora Walsh, Adult Services Librarian at PPL. “It was wonderful to spend an afternoon together on a shared project. If anyone wasn't able to join us, or wants to keep reviewing, our computers are available to all whenever the library is open.”

This valuable work will help family history enthusiasts for generations to come. The results of the Community Indexing can be searched for free at (registration required) once a state is completed. This project will also add to our understanding of the automatic transcription process. If you’d like to participate in the indexing project, please contact Elana Broch (Public Policy Librarian) or Jeremy Darrington (Politics Librarian). It is easy to participate from your home computer (or even your phone!)

Written by Stephanie Oster, Publicity Manager

Media contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications