Skip navigation

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.  This is the 15th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.


This is our fourth detailed look at Form P1, Population and Housing Schedule, that was used in most of the United States.  This post will focus on at Items 15 to 19, questions for persons 14 years of age and over.  The next blog post will finish this category with Items 20a, 20b, and 20c.



Item 15 was “What was this person doing most of last week – Working, keeping house, or something else?”  “Last week” referred to the last full week (Sunday through Saturday) before the enumerator’s visit to this household, not the 7 days prior to the official census day of April 1!  Standard responses were “Wk” for working, “H” for keeping house, “U” for unable to work, “Ot” for other, or “Inmate” for persons residing in correctional or mental institutions, homes for the aged or inform, or hospitals for the chronically ill or handicapped.  If “inmate” was recorded for Item 15, then Items 16 through 20c were to be left blank.


Working (“Wk”) included all kinds of paid work “that people do to earn a living for themselves and their families or to earn spending money.” The definition of “Working” included:


  • Work as an employee for someone else for wages or pay “in kind” (meals, living quarters, and so forth);
  • Working for one’s self in business, professional practice, or farming; and
  • Unpaid work, including chores, that contribute to the operation of a farm, business, or professional run by a member of the same household who is a relative either by blood, marriage, or adoption. The typical examples of unpaid work for another family member’s business include working in a father’s store on or the family farm.


The definition of “Working” excluded:

  • Housework, upkeep, or repair on the person’s house;
  • Volunteer work for church, Red Cross, or other organizations; and
  • Unpaid work for others who received the economic benefit of the work.  Typical examples included (1) unpaid work for a non-relative; (2) unpaid work for a relative who was not a household member, such helping out in the beauty shop of a sister who had a separate household; or (3) unpaid work typing for a husband who was employed as a lawyer for a corporation.


Keeping House (“H”) was defined as doing housework, cooking, child care, and forth, for one’s own household. A housewife away on a short vacation or who was temporarily ill during the previous week was still considered to be keeping house.  More than one person in the household could be reported as keeping house.  In contrast, doing paid housework for others in someone else’s home was considered work (“Wk”).


Unable to Work (“U”) was to be recorded for persons whose own long-term physical or mental illness or disability made them unable to do activities that met the definition of work. Such conditions included blindness, loss of limbs, serious heart trouble, tuberculosis, mental disorders, and so forth.  Enumerators were instructed that the use of the “U” code was “not confined to older persons” but that it could be applied to young persons, male or female.  The code was not to be used “for an elderly person who is able to work but believes he is too old to find work.”  Elderly persons were not to be counted as unable to work unless “suffering from a definite illness or disability of long duration.”


Other (“Ot”) was to be used for persons who were attending school, temporarily ill or disabled, or taking a vacation from a job—except housewives!  Temporarily ill or disabled persons were those who expected “to be able to work within 6 months from the time of enumeration.”


Persons who could be coded more than one way were to be reported under “the one at which he [she] spent the most time last week.” For example, a woman who was employed outside the home (Wk) and did housework at home (H) should be reported as "Wk" if she worked more hours at her job than in housekeeping at home.


Item 16 was “Did this person do any work at all last week, not counting work around the house?” This question was to be asked only of those coded as Keeping House (“H”) or Other (“Ot”) in Item 15.  “Yes” was to be recorded if the person “spent at least one hour last week in any of the activities counted as work.”  If less than one hour of work, then “No” was to be reported.


Item 17, “Was this person looking for work?” was to be asked only of those for whom “No” was recorded in Item 16. “Looking for work” included “any effort to get a job or establish a business or profession” including “waiting to hear the results of attempts made within the last 60 days to find a job.”  A few examples of ways to look for work included registration at a public or private employment office; (2) being on call at a personnel office, union hiring hall, nurses’ register, or similar professional registers; (3) meeting with or telephoning prospective employers; (4) placing or answering advertisements; (5) writing letters of application; and (6) working without pay in order to get experience or training.  “Yes” was also to be reported for persons who (1) were on indefinite layoff; (2) were temporarily ill or disabled; or (3) “believed that no work was available in the community or in his line of work.”


Item 18, “Even though he didn’t work last week, does he have a job or business?” was to be asked only of those for whom “No” was recorded in Item 17.  “Yes” was the correct answer if the person had a job or business from which he had been absent all week.  Reasons for absence included illness of the person or a family member, vacation, bad weather, labor dispute, worksite shut down for repairs, waiting to start a new job or business within 30 days, or on temporary lay-off with instructions to report back within 30 days.


If it wasn’t already clear from prior instructions, “Job” was defined as an arrangement for regular work for pay, either full- or part-time.  It also included a “standing arrangement with a single employer to work on call, which may involve an irregular schedule during the month” such as railroad trainmen had.  Seasonal employment was considered a “job” only during the season and not the off-season.


A person had a “business”—including profession or farm operations—if he or she (1) maintained an office, store, other place of business; (2) used machinery or equipment in which he had invested money; and (3) advertised the business or profession in papers, magazines, classified section of telephone book, or other publications, or by displaying a sign, distributing cards, and so forth. Casual workers or handymen were not considered to have a business.


Item 19, How many hours did he work last week? was to be asked of those persons for whom “Wk” was recorded in Item 15 or  “Yes” in Item 16.  The person’s hours spent at all jobs were to be included but lunch break or other time off was to be excluded.  Thus, a person employed at two different jobs would count hours from both jobs, or a person who worked at factory and also did chores on the family farm would count hours from both jobs.  Time spent working on a job outside of regular hours was to be counted, such as the time spent at home by teachers preparing lesson plans or grading papers.  The total was to be rounded to whole numbers, counting 30 minutes or more as one hour.  The enumerator was authorized to help the respondent do the math.


Wow, that was a lot of work to write about work!  And we're not done yet!  In the next blog post, we’ll take a look at Item 20, which was a three-part question that obtained information on the occupation, industry, and class of worker.


Adapted from Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing, and Urban and Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, pages 36-38.

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.  This is the 14th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.


This is our third look, in detail, at the Form P1, Population and Housing Schedule, that was used in most of the United States.  This post will focus on at Items 7 to 14, “Questions for all Persons.”


Item 7 was for “Name” and included two questions:  “What is the name of the head of household?” and “What are the names of all other persons who live here?”  The enumerator was further instructed to list people in this order:  (1) the head; (2) his wife; (3) unmarried sons and daughters in order of age; (4) married (or widowed, separated, or divorced) sons and daughters and their families; (5) other relatives; and (6) other persons, such as lodgers roomers, maids or hired hands who live in, and their relatives.”  Persons who were temporarily absent were to be included and visitors who had a usual place of residence elsewhere were to be excluded.  Enumerators were reminded them to include “all children, even the very youngest.”


Names were to be written as “Last name, first name and middle name or initial.”  People who went by a first initial, such as “P. Robert Brown” were to be written as “Brown, P. Robert” not “Brown, Robert P.” When the last name of the person was the same as that of the household member enumerated on the preceding line, the surname was not to be recorded.  Instead, a long dash was to be inserted.   Thus, Mr. Brown’s wife, would be entered as “_____, Sarah” not “Brown, Sarah.” Newborn infants who had not been given a name were to be recorded as “_____, Infant.”


Item 8 was for “Relationship.” The enumerator was instructed to “enter relationship of person to head of the household, such as head, wife, daughter, grandson, mother-in-law, lodger, lodger’s wife, maid, hired hand, parent,” and so forth.  If two or more persons who were not related by blood, marriage, or adoption shared one dwelling unit (such as unrelated people sharing an apartment or house), the enumerator was to write “Head” for one and “Partner” for the other(s). Consistent with commercial and business use of the word in the 1950s, “partner” signified a monetary relationship; use of the word was not intended to imply a physical or intimate relationship.



Item 9 was for “Race” with standard abbreviations such as “W” for white, “Neg” for Negro (Black), “Ind” for American Indian, “Jap” for Japanese, “Chi” for Chinese, and “Fil” for Filipino.  Designations of all other races were to be written out in full.  The enumerator was instructed:  “Assume that the race of related persons living in the household is the same as the race of your respondent, unless you learn otherwise.”  However, the enumerator was always to ask the race of unrelated persons, such as lodgers, hired hands, maids, employees, and so forth, since they could not be assumed to have the same race as the head.  Of course there were special instructions:


  • Mexicans were to be reported as white (“W”) unless there were “definitely of Indian or other nonwhite race.”
  • Black/Indian:  Persons “of mixed Indian and Negro blood should be returned as a Negro, unless the Indian blood very definitely predominates and he is accepted in the community as an Indian.”
  • American Indian:  Persons were to be reported as American Indian (Ind) if “of mixed white and Indian blood if enrolled on an Indian Agency or Reservation roll” or if not so enrolled, “if the proportion of Indian blood is one-fourth or more, or if they are regarded as Indians in the community where they live.”
  • Special communities:  The enumerator was to “Report persons of mixed white, Negro, and Indian ancestry living in certain communities in the Eastern United States in terms of the name by which they are locally known.  The communities in question are of long standing and are locally recognized by special names, such as “Croatan,” “Jackson White,” “We-sort,” etc.  Persons of mixed Indian and Negro ancestry and mulattoes not living in such communities should be returned as “Negro.” When in doubt, describe the situation in a footnote.”
  • Mixed parentage:  “Report race of nonwhite parent for persons of mixed white and nonwhite races.  Mixtures of nonwhite races should be reported according to the race of the father” except as noted above for Black/Indian or special communities.
  • Asiatic Indians.  Persons “originating in Indian should be reported as “Asiatic Indians.”


Item 10 was for “Sex” with “M” for male and “F” for female. The enumerator was to record an individual’s gender based on the name (Item 7) and relationship (Item 8) for persons not present at the interview.  The enumerator was to ask questions if he or she was uncertain what to record, particularly in cases where “the name may be common to both sexes” such as Leslie, Jean, or Francis (Frances).


Item 11 was for age, with the question:  “How old was he [she] on his [her] last birthday?”  For children under one year of age, the enumerator was to write in the child’s birth month.  If a respondent gave an approximate answer, such as “around 60,” the enumerator was to “Try to get it as accurate as possible” and seek a more precise answer, such as nearer to age 58 or 59 or possibly 61 or 62.  If the age was not known, the enumerator was to “enter an estimate as the last resort, and footnote it as an estimate.”  An entry of “21 plus” was not acceptable.


Item 12 was for marital status, with the question:  “Is he [she] now married, widowed, divorced, separated, or never married?” Standard abbreviations were to be used:  “M” for married, “Wd” for widowed, “D” for divorced, “Sep” for separated, and “Nev” for never married.  “Nev” was to be recorded if a person’s only marriage had been annulled.  The enumerator was instructed to accept a respondent’s statement that he or she was separated, but if the respondent questioned the meaning of “separated” then the enumerator was to explain that “the term refers only to those married persons who have a legal separation or who have parted because of marital discord.”  Persons whose spouses were temporarily away in the armed forces or due to employment elsewhere were to be reported as married. Persons who stated they had a common law marriage were to be reported as married.


Item 13 was for birthplace, with the question:  “What State (or foreign country) was he [she] born in?” The enumerator was permitted to abbreviate the name of the state in which he or she was enumerating, but all other State names were to be written in full.  Three details to note:

  • “District of Columbia” was to be recorded for persons born in Washington, DC.
  • If the person’s state of birth was unknown, the enumerator was to enter, “U.S.”
  • Interestingly, if a person “was born in a hospital or elsewhere outside of the State in which his family was living at the time he was born,” the enumerator was to “enter the State in which his family was living—not the State in which the hospital was located.” This is a quirk that persons living on state-border areas particularly need to take note of!


If the person was born outside the United States, the enumerator was to write the name of the foreign country or U.S. Territory or possession according to 1950 international boundaries.  Five important details to note:


  • It was acceptable to report the name of the province, city, town, or village for persons whose country of birth (under 1950 boundaries) was not definitely known.
  • “At sea” was to be indicated for those persons born at sea.
  • “Northern Ireland” and “Irish Free State” were to be specified. The enumerator was instructed that Northern Ireland contained the counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh, and that all other counties were in the Irish Free State.
  • Persons born in Canada were to be specified as “Canada-French” if they spoke French before entry into the United States” and “Canada-other” for all other Canadians.
  • “Great Britain” was not to be reported. Instead, England, Scotland, Wales, and so forth, were to be specified.

Item 14 was for naturalization status of persons born outside of the United States, with the question:  “Is he [she] naturalized?” Standard answers were “Y” for yes, “N” for no, or “AP” for born abroad or at sea of American parents.


  • “Yes” was the correct answer if the person had become an American citizen either by (1) taking out final (second) naturalization papers or (2) through the naturalization of either parent when the person was a minor.
  • “No” was the correct answer if the person had only made a declaration of intention to become a citizen (first papers).
  • Women:  Before September 22, 1922, a foreign-born woman became a naturalized American citizen when her husband was naturalized, or if she married an American citizen.  On and after September 22, 1922, a woman had to take out papers in her own name to become naturalized.
  • Foreign-born child:  The naturalization status of a foreign-born child under 18 years old was be reported “No” unless the parents were citizens or were naturalized.
  • Born abroad:  A foreign-born person or a person born at sea was an American citizen at birth (a) if his father was an American citizen who had resided in the United States before the time of the child’s birth or (b) if the person was born after May 24, 1934, and if either parent was an American citizen who had resided in the United States before the time of the child’s birth.


Although Items 1-6 were six simple questions, they certainly require a lot of explanation!  In the next blog post, we will look at Items 15-20c, questions for all persons age 14 or more.


Adapted from Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing, and  Urban and Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, pages 33-36.

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.  This is the 13th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.


This is our second look, in detail, at the Form P1, Population and Housing Schedule, that was used in most of the United States.  This post will focus on Items 1-6 that provided “Household Information.”

Item 1 was for “Street, avenue, or road.” The enumerator wrote lengthwise (sideways) in this column the name of the street, avenue, court, place, alley, or road.  If there was no street name, the enumerator was to write in the blank “Notes” section in the middle of the page “the location of the house in such a way that someone else will be able to find it.”


If the street had a name but no house numbers, the enumerator was to write the name of the street and give location by direction from its intersection with another street, such as “Douglas Avenue, west of Sherman.” When the enumerator went from one street to another, he or she was to draw a horizontal line to indicate the end of the enumerator’s work on the first street and the beginning of the enumerator’s work on the next street.  Remember that an enumerator might work on a particular street several times during the enumeration due to the instruction to go around a complete block before beginning the next block, as described in the prior post, 1950 Census:  Field Enumeration Procedures.


Items 2 through 6, described below, were only written on the line for the head of household of each dwelling unit.


Item 2 was for “House (and apartment) number.” The enumerator was to write the house number (street address) if it had one.  If it had more than dwelling unit, the apartment number or location were to be given, such as “Apt.  1” or “3rd floor rear.”  If there was a second house behind the first house at the same address, it was to be indicated as “rear of ___” whatever number the “front” house had.  If there was no house number the enumerator was to describe its location in such a way that someone else would be able to find it, such as “1st house on right after fire house.”


Item 3 was for “Serial number of dwelling unit.” This was a sequential count of the number of dwelling units visited by the enumerator.  The enumerator was to “number the dwelling units in your ED in the order in which you first visit them” even if it was necessary to return to the dwelling unit at a later time to obtain needed information.  Serial numbers were to be assigned to all dwelling units, whether occupied by residents, nonresidents, or vacant.


Lodging houses, hotels, and similar places usually contained multiple dwelling units.  The enumerator was instructed that “Each group occupying separate living quarters that meet the definition of a dwelling unit should be assigned a separate serial number” while “roomers who rent sleeping quarters only should be listed with the members of the household’s family.”  A dwelling unit was defined as “a group of rooms or a single room, occupied or intended for occupancy as separate living quarters, by a family or other group of persons living together or by a person living alone.”  We will return to this subject in a future post but, in general, quarters that did “not have separate cooking equipment” or a separate entrance from the landlord’s quarters were to be enumerated as part of the landlord’s household.


Item 4 was for the yes or no question:  “Is this house on a farm (or ranch)?”  In urban areas, the enumerator was to supply the answer himself or herself by observation.  In rural areas, the enumerator was to let the respondent answer the question.  Some farms might contain two or more houses, and it was fine if the respondents at each house gave different answers.  For example, Mr.  Anderson owned and lived on his farm and would answer “yes” that he lived on a farm.  Mr.  Anderson had a second house with a small yard on his property that he rented to Mr.  Brown who worked in the nearby city.  Mr.  Brown would undoubtedly say “no” he did not live on a farm.  Those who answered “yes” to the farm question would also be required to answer questions on the Form A1, Agricultural Questionnaire, which is not extant.  For institutions, summer camps, and tourist camps, “no” was always the correct answer for this question even if there were some agricultural operations present.


Item 5, “Is this house on a place of three or more acres?” was to be answered if the response to Item 4 was “no” and skipped if Item 4 was “yes.”  Urban areas sometimes had places of three or more acres that were “not thought of as farms” but would still be required to answer the questions on Form A1, Agricultural Questionnaire.  Likewise, if our hypothetical Mr.  Brown, mentioned above, answered “No” to item 4 but rented three or more acres, he would answer the Form A1, Agricultural Questionnaire, concerning his rented acreage.


Item 6, “Agricultural Questionnaire Number” was written by the enumerator.  Unfortunately, these questionnaires are not extant and therefore will not be part of the release of the 1950 census.  Numbers were assigned sequentially.  If two (or more) dwelling units on the property each required a Form A1, Agricultural Questionnaire, the same number was to be indicated for both.  In rural areas, “if some other enumerator is required to fill out the Agricultural Questionnaire” then the enumerator was to write “Other ED” in item 6.  This situation occurred if the person in charge of the farm lived in a different Enumeration District (ED) than the farm.  In urban areas, enumerators were not trained in taking the Form A1 so they were issued Form A2, Special Agricultural Questionnaire, for those places that were farms, had three or more acres, or specialized agricultural operations.  Answers on the Form A2 would determine if there were agricultural operations that required a Form A1.  The urban enumerator was instructed: “If there are agricultural operations, someone will be sent to each place to fill the Agricultural Questionnaire at a later date (Form A1).  You simply tell the respondent that you have not been trained in filling the Agricultural Questionnaire and that someone who has been trained will call at a later date.”


Although Items 1-6 were six simple questions, they certainly require a lot of explanation!  In the next blog post, we will look at Items 7-14, questions for all persons.


Adapted from Urban and Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, pages 29-31, 68, and 102.