The 1950 Census is online!

This piece was tacked onto an item about political personalities. As I was thinking about Obama, I noticed that the 1950 Census was finally available. I then started writing about the census as a footnote. Here’s the part about the census on its own, with a properly searchable title.  (Learning the metalesson from the census itself!)

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The 1950 Census details are finally available! I’ve been waiting for ten years to check out some places and people. My guesses were often wrong in the 1940 census, but this one checked out immediately. Obama’s grandparents and mother lived SW of downtown in a rented duplex, which would have been lower-working-class at that time. The location was within my stomping grounds when I lived in Ponca in the ’70s. My regular route from home to work passed that block, but I wouldn’t have driven down that block because it dead-ended at the railroad.

I haven’t verified other names yet, partly because the Census Bureau’s OCR had trouble with the rather sloppy handwriting on the data sheets. I suspect famous people like Obama’s relatives have been looked up and ‘edited’ by others already, so their name was ready to find. Grandma’s apartment shows ‘Not at Home’ along with many other addresses in that neighborhood. It’s definitely the right place because I recognize the lady across the hall. The ‘Not at Home’ notes all refer to ‘sheet 72’, which isn’t in the uploads. Presumably those high-numbered sheets listed return visits on later dates. The 1940 records didn’t have any ‘Not at Homes’, presumably because they wrote the return visits on the proper sheets.

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This is a good Ockham lesson for clerks and writers. According to the FAQ on the main census page, the data sheets were microfilmed after the census was done, and the microfilming missed the back sides of the pages and the extra pages. So the ‘Not at Home’ names, along with other data about house values and incomes, were permanently lost because they weren’t INLINE.

Maintaining each piece as originally written is required in legal circles, for chain of evidence. In that environment, where the mere EXISTENCE of a document counts far more than the MEANING of a document, the practice might make sense. Trials are won by the WEIGHT IN POUNDS of the documentary evidence. The scale of justice is perfectly literal.

Some bloggers bash journalists for quietly correcting an online item without separate errata.  In this case (atypically) the journalists are doing the right thing.  An ordinary reader doesn’t care about the process of proofreading and editing.

If you’re writing for meaning, trying to convey the BEST information to a reader who wants to USE the information, supplemental sheets are destructive. They can get lost, as happened in 1950. More importantly an ordinary reader expects to find the correct and relevant material INLINE, as part of the text, under a meaningful title or heading. Separated errata, like those ‘Not At Homes’ listed on Sheet 72, cause nothing but confusion.

See also legacies and copyrights.

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General observation after looking through a bunch of pages, in the same areas where I was looking in the 1940 census. 1950 is much less CROWDED than 1940. In 40 most apts contained a family; in 50 most apts had one occupant. In 40 many houses included a Lodger or Housekeeper; so far I’ve only seen one Lodger and no Housekeepers in 50.

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The incomes and house values were lost, but the hours worked were INLINE. There’s a clear and sharp distinction between types of employment. All Conoco employees worked 40 hours, which was unusual in 1950. (Elsewhere, nearly everyone worked half or full day on Saturday.) Retail jobs were 60 hours, and truck drivers worked 90 hours.

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Later, I looked for my house here in Spokane. Again no surprises. It was occupied by Jim and Bertha, who had been its first buyers in ’48. Jim was 63 and retired. The building at 4001, which had been a single house in 1940, was 8 apartments in 1950, just as it was when vacated in 2000 and finally renovated in 2021.

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