A US census from the 1950 shows how our great grandparents lived

What was the past like? The census offers a glimpse.
Loukia Papadopoulos

On Friday, U.S. census records starting from 1950 were made available for all to see and they caused quite a stir. "Taken every 10 years since 1790, the United States census provides a snapshot of the nation's population. Because of a 72-year restriction on access to the records, the most recent census year currently available is 1950," wrote the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

"On April 1, 2022, the 1950 Census was released, and users can access it for free through a dedicated website at 1950census.archives.gov. This population census is the 17th decennial census of the United States. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has digitized and is providing free online access to the 1950 Census population schedules for U.S. states and territories, enumeration district maps, and enumeration district descriptions," added the organization.

A glimpse into the past

The records, that are now public, are searchable by name and address and unveil many secrets of the past. What were the lives of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents like? How did a nation on the cusp of the modern era behave? How were families organized at the time? Who led the households and how did people live?

“This is the Super Bowl and the Olympics combined, and it’s only every 10 years — it’s awesome stuff,” Matt Menashes, the executive director of the National Genealogical Society, told The New York Times. “What’s so great about these points of data is that it helps you paint a picture — not just relationships, but what society was like.”

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What picture does it paint? What was life like in the 1950s?

Life in the 1950s

For starters, there was a significant economic and population expansion brought on by the optimism felt by the nation after the victory in World War II. The U.S. had seen its population rise by nearly 15 percent in just one decade with nearly one in 10 people living in New York. There was also a strong middle class with average families earning $3,300 a year, an equivalent of $38,800 in 2022.

These are just some of the insights into the 1950s that the 1950 census offers. Shifting through the meticulously collected data can reveal much more. Will you be taking a look at the genealogical goldmine?