NARA expects to digitally release the 1950 population census schedules for researcher use on April 1, 2022, which is 72 years after the official 1950 census day of April 1, 1950. This is the sixth in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.


The Bureau of the Census developed “field enumeration procedures” to make sure the 1950 census would be as complete a count as possible. Systematic coverage of each Enumeration District (ED) was essential.


Each enumerator was ordinarily assigned one ED and given a portfolio containing all needed supplies. It included a written description of the ED as well as a map showing its boundaries.  An enumerators whose ED adjoined an unincorporated place would receive either two maps or one map and an aerial photograph.  One of these would show the complete ED and the other would show on a larger scale where the ED adjoined an unincorporated area.  An unincorporated area was a community having no legal boundaries; in other words, a named geographic place without a governing body separate from the surrounding area.


In cities and towns having blocks (areas bounded on all sides by streets), the enumerator was to canvas one block or square at a time, and one just one side of the road at a time: no crisscrossing the street!  If the blocks were numbered on the ED map, the enumerator was to work in the order indicated by those numbers. The enumerator was to begin each block at a corner and proceed clockwise around the block until returning back to the beginning point. If the block included courts, alleys, dead-end streets, or passageways, and so forth, the enumerator was to check those as well, such as shown in the image below.

1950 census - how to enumerate a complete city block

Image:  Example of how to enumerate a complete city block.


Enumerators were admonished to be careful to visit all dwelling units of apartment buildings, including those in the basement.  The crew leaders would furnish a list of all apartment numbers in buildings with 20 or more units, but the enumerator would have to make his or own list for smaller buildings.


In towns or villages without distinct blocks, the enumerator was to canvass the population street by street. In some cases, it would be desirable to interrupt the canvass of a principal street in order to enumerate persons living on a side street, but the enumerator was to use his or her judgment on how best to do it. While conducting the census, the enumerator was to draw lines on the ED map to indicate which sides of the road he or she had completed as an aid to keeping track of work completed and work yet undone, as shown below.

1950 Census Field Procedures Example of How to Enumerate When There Are Not Distinct Blocks

Image:  Example of how to mark ED map with locations already enumerated.


In rural areas, the enumerator was to begin the enumeration on a major road that intersected the boundary lines of the ED, then enumerate the remainder in a logical manner. The Bureau instructed: “Follow each path and lane” and “Ask who the neighbors are and where they live.”  The neighbors should be asked to point out the locations of houses on the map. In rural areas, the Bureau noted, “there are many places which cannot be seen from any road, and many places of 3 or more acres on which no one lives.”  While canvassing the ED, the rural enumerator was to mark the map with each house’s dwelling number as indicated on the population schedule.


All enumerators, whether urban or rural, were to correct the map(s) they received by adding roads not shown on the map, crossing out abandoned or nonexistent roads, correcting erroneous street names, and marking driveways leading to structures not easily visible from the road.  Two examples of these map annotations are shown below.

1950 Census - Example of Map Corrections to be Made by Enumerator on His or Her Map

Image:  Example of how mark corrections on ED map.


The maps marked up by enumerators were temporary records intended to help them do their work in a logical manner and demonstrate to their Crew Leaders (supervisors) and to the Bureau of the Census that a complete enumeration had been conducted. The permanent ED maps—created by the Bureau’s Geography Division for planning purposes prior to the enumeration—can be found online in the National Archives Catalog in “Enumeration District and Related Maps, 1880-1950” (National Archives Identifier 821491).


These were some of the basic field enumeration procedures followed by the 1950 census enumerators.  In the coming weeks, we’ll look at a few more.


Adapted from Urban and Rural Enumerator’s Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, pages 2-6.