NARA released the 1950 population census schedules for researcher use on April 1, 2022, at  This is the 35th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 censusAuthor’s Note:  This and all 1950 census posts are subject to revision if further research determines that our understanding of the topic was in error.  This post was last revised on May 25, 2022.

Every 10 years, “The Big Count” kept getting bigger and more challenging to successfully complete.  Thus, the 1950 Census was the last time enumerators personally visited most households with large multi-family census sheets.  During subsequent censuses, households received enumeration forms in the mail and often mailed them back to the Census Bureau.

With an eye toward the future, the Census Bureau in 1950 tested self-enumeration with household forms in Ingham and Livingston Counties, Michigan, and Franklin County, Ohio. Household forms were also tested in selected Enumeration Districts (EDs) in Genesee County, Michigan, and in Coshocton, Defiance, Delaware, Fulton, Henry, Knox, Licking, Lucas, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Richland, Van Wert, and Williams Counties, Ohio, but the enumerators completed the forms for households in those areas.

There were actually five different enumeration procedures used during the 1950 census, with Procedures II, III, IV, and V used in the experimental Michigan and Ohio areas:

  • Procedure I – The regular census procedure used throughout most of the United States, with households recorded by an enumerator on the standard Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing, that had space for 40 persons per page.
  • Procedure II – Enumeration on a household schedule, Form P10, and Form P11. If the household was not at home or the enumerator was unable to complete the interview on the P11, the enumerator was to leave the form with an explanatory letter (Form P11A) at the household and pick it up later.
  • Procedure III – Enumeration on a household schedule, Form P12A or Form P13A, which the enumerator left at the dwelling unit for later pick up by the enumerator.  Form P12A instructed the recipient:  “A Census Enumerator called at your house but did not find anyone at home.  Accordingly, you are requested to fill out this form.  The enumerator will return to pick it up within 3 days.”
  • Procedure IV – Enumeration on a household schedule, Form P12B or Form P13B, which was “left to be filled out by the head of the household and mailed to the District Office if no one was at home to give the required information to the enumerator on his first visit.”
  • Procedure V – Self-enumeration on a household schedule, Form P12C or P13C.  These were distributed by persons called “listers” shortly before the April 1 census date, with instructions for the household itself to fill out its schedule and mail it to the District Office.  This procedure will be described in more detail below.  The Bureau found that public response to Procedure V was “highly gratifying” and that “over 95 percent of the schedules left were filled out and returned by the respondents.”  This procedure was conducted solely in Ingham and Livingston Counties, Michigan, and Franklin County, Ohio.  The two types of self-enumeration forms are shown below:
Self-Enumeration Form (Type 1) - Example from Ingham County, Michigan, ED 33-75 (image 220)Self-Enumeration Form (Type 2) - Example from Ingham County, Michigan, ED 33-75 (image 234)
Self-Enumeration Form (Type 1) - Example from Ingham County, Michigan, ED 33-75 (image 220)Self-Enumeration Form (Type 2) - Example from Ingham County, Michigan, ED 33-75 (image 234)

The Census Bureau concluded that household schedules had several advantages over large multi-household “line schedules” such as: 

  • It was more convenient for the enumerator in the field. It was a better interviewing tool because the enumerator could show the wording of the questions to people without violating the confidential answers of others.
  • It was more convenient for the clerks in Washington, DC, who collated family statistics.
  • It could be left for self-enumeration.

On the other hand, household schedules were more costly to print, handle, and process.  This problem was likely also experienced 60 years earlier by the temporary 11th Census Office while handling, compiling, and analyzing the household forms used nationwide during the 1890 census. 

Self-enumeration had been done in “many countries” and the Bureau’s own “small-scale pretests” prior to 1950 had indicated that were some cost savings to be achieved by the use of self-enumeration.  However, the Bureau’s not determined whether the quality of data collected by self-enumeration outweighed the extra printing, shipping, and handling costs.  Therefore, in 1950 the Bureau conducted “large scale” experiments with the five different procedures.

Procedure V, self-enumeration, was summarized by the Bureau as follows:

(1)  Each lister was assigned to canvass and list one or more Enumeration Districts (EDs) – and to complete this process by March 31, 1950.

(2)  Training for each lister required about half the time necessary for training the standard census procedure (Procedure I) to regular enumerators because the lister was not trained on the nuances of definitions and concepts involved in the various questions on the schedule. However, he or she was instructed on:

(a) Whom to report to and obtain answers from for any questions asked by respondents.

(b) Definition of a dwelling unit.

(c) Definition of places for which an agricultural questionnaire was required. [Questionnaires for individual farms are not extant.]

(d) Specified housing items to be entered by him [her], such as dilapidation.

(e) Circumstances calling for special forms, such as Individual Census Report (ICR), Infant Card, or New Occupant Card.

(f)  Mechanics of listing procedure and entries to be made on the various forms.

(3)  The lister visited every dwelling in the Enumeration District to accomplish these tasks:

(a)  The lister Identified dwelling units and left a schedule at each.  If the household was assigned a sample schedule, the lister left Individual Census Reports (Form P2) for any unrelated persons and asked the respondent to also list these persons on the schedule for the household.  Whenever necessary, Infant Cards (Form P3) were also provided.  At each vacant unit, a New Occupant Card was left.  If no one was at home, the lister obtained needed information from neighbors and left the schedules.  A letter printed on the schedule itself requested the respondent to mail it in.

(b)  The lister identified non-dwelling unit quarters.  For places on the “T-Night” list, institutions, and other special types of living quarters, the lister returned a schedule marked “Void” to the District Office.  This group of schedules served as a list of special living quarters for follow-up by enumerators.  For other non-dwelling unit quarters, the lister wrote the names of all residents on the schedule before leaving it with Individual Census Reports (ICRs – Form P2).

(c)  The lister determined whether to leave an agricultural questionnaire by filling out section I of the Form A1, Agriculture Questionnaire (in both urban and rural areas) for every farm or ranch, every place of three or more acres, and every place with specialized agricultural operations.  A special letter was left with each agriculture questionnaire, requesting the respondent to fill it out and mail it to the local Census Office.  [Questionnaires for individual farms are not extant.]

(d)  The lister filled out a line on a listing sheet for each listing unit (dwelling unit, non-dwelling unit quarters, “T-Night” place, institution, or other special type of living quarters, and place for which an Agriculture Questionnaire was required but not tied to a household in the Enumeration District (such as when the farm owner lived in a different Enumeration District).  The information entered on the listing sheet served as a control on the completeness of listing and on the sampling.

(e)  The lister prepared a map for the Enumeration District that corresponded to his or her work in the ED as follows:

    • The lister divided the Enumeration District into blocks, street segments, or road segments.
    • If the Enumeration District could not be divided into blocks he or she identified the location of the units listed by entering serial numbers for each street or road segment or for each unit.
    • He made the entry “No D.U.” on his map for each block or street or road segment for which he had no dwelling units listed.

(4)  The lister worked with pads consisting of 50 Population and Housing schedules and a listing sheet.  There was a one-to-one correspondence between the schedules in the pad and the lines to be filled in on the listing sheet.  The 50 schedules consisted of 10 sets of 5 schedules:  4 non-sample and 1 sample form.  The pad system constituted a major control of the sampling operations.

(5)  The lister also addressed a follow-up letter for each dwelling unit at which schedules were left.  These letters were turned in to the District office with his or her portfolio.  The listers were paid on a piece price basis for each listing and for each follow-up letter addressed.  In addition, a mileage allowance was paid in rural areas.

(6)  Schedules received in the District Office were checked in and the follow-up letters corresponding to schedules received were discarded.  About a week after April 1, the the remaining follow-up letters were counted and mailed out.  Simultaneously, the schedules received in the District Office were edited (checked) for completeness.  All office personnel for editing and other operations were selected from among the listers and paid an hourly rate. Whenever possible, incompleteness in a schedule was cleared up by making a telephone call to the respondent.  Starting April 10, however, callbacks were also made by enumerators working out of the District office for:

(a) Schedules not received

(b) Incomplete schedules that could not be completed by a telephone call

Enumerators for this follow-up operation were selected from among the listers and given the standard Census enumerator training.  They were paid on an hourly rate basis plus mileage allowance.  The number of enumerators used for the follow-up operation was about one-fifth the number of listers.

The “T-Night” and “missed persons” procedures were the same as in the standard Census procedure (Procedure I).  Institutions and other special living quarters were covered by a separate centralized follow-up operation.

Public response to Procedure V was “highly gratifying” and that “over 95 percent of the schedules left were filled out and returned by the respondents.”  However, “a detailed evaluation of the success of the procedure from a technical point of view” had to “wait on the analysis of the time and cost records—and on the results of the special post-enumeration survey being conducted to obtain information on the quality of the data furnished by the respondents who filled out their own schedules.”


Main sources of information for this post:

(1)  “Binder 98-A – Memorandums Concerning Procedures II and III, 1950 Census” (NAID 208134154), in “Reference Materials, 1948-1950” (NAID 2990119), Record Group (RG) 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.  Materials in this file describe the differences in all five procedures and outlines Procedure V.

(2) “Binder 106-A – Memorandums Concerning Procedure V, 1950 Census” (NAID 208134180), in “Reference Materials, 1948-1950” (NAID 2990119), Record Group (RG) 29. Bureau staff member Charles Merzel served as “Washington trainer and technical adviser” for the Procedure V census operation in Franklin County, Ohio, during March and April 1950.  His 10-page memorandum and related materials provide much insight into the personnel, logistical, and enumeration procedures and problems faced in implementing Procedure V.  In addition, it includes lists of forms used in Procedures II, III, IV, and V.