Saturday, April 2, 2022

1950 Census for All


The official release of the 1950 U. S. Census was scheduled for midnight this April 1. Perhaps you were among the many who were tempted to pull an all-nighter to spy out your family's details from seventy two years ago. Of course, those of us living on the west coast had the benefit of enjoying our first glimpse of family in that 1950 snapshot of American life at a more reasonable 9:00 p.m.—on March 31. For once, time zones were in our favor.

While many family history enthusiasts were chomping at the bit to find their family in the freshly-released digital document, I don't think anyone flew to the finish line quite so fast as southern California researcher Randy Seaver, who proudly announced on his blog that he had found his family by 9:02. There will be many more shouts of genealogical joy broadcast through blogs and social media over the weekend as others find the family they've been searching for.

I, on the other hand, was looking for something different: I want to know how we, as a genealogy community, can collectively deliver a fully-searchable census to our customary online resources faster than the record-breaking speed experienced with the launch of the 1940 census. Since I am accustomed to doing volunteer indexing work on the weekends, I thought Saturday, April 2, would be the perfect time to start doing my part toward indexing the 1950 census.

Silly me. While the digitized images are already available at the official National Archives website, we will still have more of a wait until the process is fully ready for indexing volunteers to tackle at Sure, the FamilySearch website already allows researchers to explore the images, but what I want is to get in on the action previewed during the recent RootsTech main stage event

What is apparently still ahead for us is the chance to actually participate in the collaborative community project to index the massive record. The "Get Involved" app promises to streamline the work involved in translating images into searchable words. Thanks to initial work through Artificial Intelligence handwriting recognition technology at, and the teamwork of volunteer indexers at, the new "Get Involved" process will simplify what has always been an enormous task.

There are two ways to get involved in this volunteer effort, and three types of volunteer projects. One way is through use of volunteers' own computer, which opens up all three project types. The first project, called a "Header Review," asks volunteers to double-check the header information for a page of the 1950 census. A second way to help is by participating in the "Family Review," a more detailed effort in which volunteers will select the names of a single household or family, then review all the details entered for that one selected household. The third way to help is by participating in the "Single Name Corrections"—a review process which can not only be completed on your computer, but also by your mobile phone, once you download the "Get Involved" app.

Besides the fact that the heavy lifting has been done by AI handwriting recognition technology, the review process has been designed to encourage volunteers to target their efforts to the families and locations which mean the most to them personally. As the digitized census sections are uploaded to the FamilySearch "Get Involved" tab, volunteers can specify where they would like to help. Got a specific surname you are chasing? You can indicate you want to work on households with that surname. Want to focus on a particular location where your family settled in 1950? You can request to work on that specific area. If we all do our part to bring our own families to light, it not only helps us with our own research goals, but brings the project forward faster for all of us.

Of course, the more people willing to help make the 1950 census searchable, the faster the completed project will be out there, fully functional, for all of us to use. One aspect of assembling this army of volunteers—one which I am most interested in—is the opportunity to involve members of local genealogical societies. Traditionally, most local genealogical societies have had as part of their mission to make such records available to researchers. It's our organizational calling. Signing up your local society is easy to do, and can interject some esprit de corps into your organization by setting group indexing goals, or perhaps even working together (literally) at society headquarters or at a home library.

I'm cheering on all of us who volunteer to review this 1950 census. This time, we've gotten a powerful boost from technology and user-friendly interfaces. Let's turn this project around even faster than we did the 1940 census! 

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