FINDING YOUR NIKKEI ROOTS: Where was your family in 1950?

The 1950 U.S. Census was publicly released on April 1, 2022, 72 years after it was enumerated.

The U.S. government began to count the population in 1790 and continued to do so every 10 years. Each decennial census asked slightly different questions and the data is invaluable for family historians.

Enumerators were given specific instructions (https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/enumerator-instructions) for completing the forms. Neighborhoods were divided into Enumeration Districts (https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/finding-aids#:~:text=If%20you%20have%20the%20address,in%20the%20red%20box%20below). These were areas that “could be covered by a single enumerator (census taker) in one census period.”

Some of the data collected in 1950 no longer exists. For example, the 1950 U.S. Census originally contained two pages, the second page being housing data. Those housing records were not microfilmed and no longer exist.

“Infant Cards” were compiled for infants born January through March of 1950, but later destroyed by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Overseas U.S. civilians and military personnel were enumerated in 1950, but that information is no longer extant. If your family member resided in Japan on April 1, 1950, you won’t find them in the U.S. Census. My Nisei father-in-law moved to Japan in 1945. Although enumerated, that census document no longer exists. The same holds true for service men and women living in Japan during the occupation, or in other foreign countries. However, if your family member was serving in the U.S. or a territory, they were enumerated, and those records are available.

The 1950 U.S. Census is a particularly powerful tool for researching Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. The resettlement period following the war was a time where families moved frequently. Final Accountability Rosters, Evacuee Case Files, and Enemy Alien Case Files may indicate where and when a person or family was initially released. We often lose track of the Issei and Nisei after this time, but the newly released census may help you to find them.

The Issei parents of Maruko and Masashi repatriated at the end of the war. Their brother, Terumi, was also residing in Japan. Maruko and Masashi are the only Okazaki family members who can be found in the 1950 Census.

There were 20 questions asked of every person enumerated in 1950, including but not limited to3:
• Address
• Name and relationship to head of household
• Race
• Gender
• Age at last birthday
• Marital status
• Place of birth
• Naturalization

There were six questions about occupation or employment for every person 14 years of age and above, as well as questions about military service for males over 14. Additionally, there were supplemental questions asked of six individuals on each page. For more details about the data on each census, it is helpful to review the enumerator instructions.

Did you know that the enumerators were supposed to mark if someone wasn’t home? They also were instructed to go back and fill the data in on a different page, “sheet 71.”

Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawai‘i, Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands used slightly different census forms from that of the continental U.S. If your family member lived in the Territory of Hawai‘i (https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/census-records/blog/2021/10/20/1950-census-form-p87-1950-census-of-population-hawaii), a supplemental question asked where they lived on V-J Day. This can be very helpful for the family historian trying to place their ancestor in 1945.

Where to search?

There are three locations to easily search for your relatives in the 1950 U.S. Census, for free. The National Archives and Records Administration (https://1950census.archives.gov) is the guardian of these records originally held by the U.S. Census Bureau; the 1950 Census can be searched on NARA for free. Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/c/1950-census) is a subscription site, but this collection can be accessed for free. FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/getinvolved/1950) is an entirely free site.

But I still can’t find my family!
The National Archives created a name index using optical handwriting recognition (OCR) when they digitized the 1950 Census. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start. You can search for your family members (or yourself if you were living in the U.S. or a territory in 1950). And you can help improve the name index by using the transcription tools (https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/census-records/blog/2022/04/04/1950-census-transcription-tool-faqs) on the NARA Website.6

You can also transcribe the name index (https://www.familysearch.org/getinvolved/1950) and fix errors on FamilySearch.7

Keep looking for your loved ones, or maybe even yourself. If they (you?) lived in the U.S. or the Territory of Hawai’i on April 1, 1950, they likely are waiting to be found. If you still can’t find them using the name index, first try using wildcards in your search, such as “Okaz*” for Okazaki. If that doesn’t work, try looking for collateral relatives or married names for women. If you have a general idea of where someone lived, (perhaps Minnesota or New Jersey?), try looking through Enumeration District maps (https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/finding-aids) to narrow down the area of a possible residence.8 You can also try using the Unified Census ED Finder9 (https://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html) at Stephen P. Morse’s One Step Webpages (https://stevemorse.org).10

Still have questions? Be sure to check the FAQs at both the U.S. Census Bureau11 and the National Archives.12 Additionally, Amy Johnson Crow has a series of free YouTube videos about the census which you might find helpful.13

Good luck, everyone. Be sure to let me know if you still have questions or if you want to share some success stories.

1Instructions for Enumerators and the Public
www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/enumerator-instructions

2Finding Aids for the 1950 Census
www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/finding-aids#:~:text=If%20you%20have%20the%20address,in%20the%20red%20box%20below

3Questions Asked on the 1950 Census (NARA)
www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/questions-asked

4United States Census Bureau 1950 Instructions
www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/census_instructions/1950_instructions.html

51950 Census: Form P87, 1950 Census of Population and Housing – Hawaii
https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/census-records/blog/2021/10/20/1950-census-form-p87-1950-census-of-population-hawaii

61950 Census Transcription Tool FAQs
https://historyhub.history.gov/community/genealogy/census-records/blog/2022/04/04/1950-census-transcription-tool-faqs
71950 U.S. Census Community Project
www.familysearch.org/getinvolved/1950

8Finding Aids for the 1950 Census (NARA)
www.archives.gov/research/census/1950/finding-aids

9Unified Census ED Finder
https://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html

10One Step Webpages
https://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html

11United States Census Bureau Genealogy FAQs
www.census.gov/history/www/faqs/genealogy_faqs/when_will_census_records_be_available.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20%2272%2DYear,be%20released%20in%20April%202022

12Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the 1950 Census
www.archives.gov/research/census/1950

13Using the 1950 Census (series) Amy Johnson Crow www.youtube.com/

Linda Harms Okazaki is a professional genealogist who is past president of the California Genealogical Society. She specializes in Japanese American records. If you have a genealogical question which might be answered in this column, send an e-mail to LindasOrchard@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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