Saturday, May 7, 2022

Fun With the Fifties


The fifties has been a decade inspiring nostalgia. Granted, the recent release of the 1950 U.S. Census has prompted part of the retro mania—with even a "nod" to the release at the National Genealogical Society's conference later this month. All in good fun, and quite predictable.

I'm having my own fun with the fifties, too. Still working away at indexing that mammoth census release, I tried my hand at the "name review" for one of the states in my family's heritage—Florida—and discovered some interesting entries. Take this one that only a bibliophile would appreciate: a household with the surname Goethe living next door to another home boasting the surname Faulkner. What are the chances?!

While I and countless others have been volunteering through to make the 1950 census fully searchable—you can too, by the way—judging by the map provided on their website, it looks like about one third of the nation is at least twenty five percent completed. Most of the states with greater portions completed seem to be in the western third of the continent, perhaps a no-brainer, when you realize that includes Utah, home state of FamilySearch. The volunteering enthusiasm radiates outward from there.

While I did, at the beginning, work on the first task presented for the census review—called the "name review"—by focusing on my ancestors' home states, I've since regrouped to work on the data for my current home state, California. Now, the name review process for California is 83% completed, an encouraging sign, considering the size of that state's population. From there, indexers are moving on to the next task, "review document header," where 13% is already completed. The final task in the sequence is the "review families" process to group names by households. We have a long way to go on that, since the percent complete hasn't yet budged from zero.

Granted, this indexing process is a partnership between the tech muscle at and the volunteering volume at While we're still in the midst of double-checking the AI handwriting recognition readouts, you may have noticed that Ancestry has already released a tentative version on their website—and even better news is the fact that they're offering access for free. I've run into several families on my tree who now have the 1950 census included in their listing of hints.

However, as genea-blogging's "first kid on the block"—Randy Seaver—has observed, this is dubbed an "early version" of the searchable census, the Ancestry AI version, which is different from the National Archives' version. While we get the sneak peek at the 1950 census, there is still more work to be done to complete the indexing job to make the entire record fully searchable.

I remember the impressive results ten years ago, when at the release of the 1940 census for indexing, a total of one hundred sixty three thousand volunteers joined together virtually to complete in four months a project that was expected to take upwards of a year to tackle. This time around, we have the heavy hitters from the tech world pulling the bulk of the weight, but we still need people to double check what the AI handwriting recognition technology might have missed. That tech assist speeds up the process greatly—and I'm in awe of the ability of computers to read chicken scratch!—so we should be able to make better time with this project than we saw with the last census release. 

But only if we have the volunteers to do it.

Let's see how fast we can turn this project around!


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