There has been a lot of buzz building up—at long last!—to the April 1 release of the 1950 U.S. Census. Though a lot of people are ecstatic over what they're finding about their relatives back then, I'm concerned we may have overdone one aspect of marketing the release: it's been all about us.
Were you in the census back then in 1950, the question goes. Or where were your parents? Who lived in your neighborhood, back then?
You. You. You.
The logical next step follows closely after that: "I don't need to access the 1950 census because I already know everything I need to find out about my family during that time."
Meanwhile, though we have the impressive accomplishment of artificial intelligence handwriting recognition technology—a remarkable development in its own right—we still have the need for human eyes to inspect the verdict on the vast majority of over one hundred fifty million entries made by fallible enumerators with awful handwriting. That's a lot of double checking.
And there's the catch: where will the volunteers come from to help with that review project, if family history researchers are satisfied with what they already know about their relatives in 1950? I'm already hearing it from people who usually are deeply involved with helping others discover their family's story: too busy to help.
If those of us who have signed up to make a difference in local genealogical organizations have been swayed toward apathy by the "you" marketing of this most recent census release, we have lost sight of our original goal. Traditionally, local genealogical societies and family history centers have opened their doors to help those who want to research their family but don't yet know where to start.
If "start with yourself" has always been Step One for beginners, what better way to help them get started than to pull up the most recent enumeration and help them find their known family members there? Except that there's this one missing step to make this census fully searchable—yet volunteers who could help have been lulled into thinking they don't need to help because "I already know about my 1950 people."
The project to make the 1950 census fully searchable isn't really about us. Yes, we already know about our 1950 family stories. Yes, we'd rather struggle with that question about our brick wall ancestor in the 1700s. But please: take some time this week to help review census names and records in this easier-than-ever indexing project. And if you are part of a local genealogical group, turn this into a fun community effort for your membership, by participating with FamilySearch's 1950 U.S. Census Community Project. Download graphics to share on your social media—and that participating group volunteers can post, as well.
There's nothing like a mutual goal to bind a group closer together—something we all could use a bit more of, after a long two-year absence.