Finding myself in the 1950 U.S. Census

Sepia Saturday 616. First in a new series about family history discoveries in the recently released 1950 U.S. census.

This week I experienced the magical moment of finding myself in the recently-released 1950 U.S. census — my first census appearance!

I was just over 2 months old when census-taker Margaret Gardner came calling on April 7, 1950. Yet she diligently cataloged me with my parents, maternal grandparents and aunt in the flat we shared at 45 Grand Street, No. 137 in Gloversville, Fulton, New York.

Et voilà, there I am at number 26 on the census form shown below — and with my first name misspelled, too (almost a rite of census passage).

https://1950census.archives.gov/search/?county=Fulton&name=Mollie%20Beth%20Charboneau&page=1&state=NY#
Laurence and Charboneau families in the 1950 US Census for Gloversville, Fulton, N.Y. (April 7, 1950). At last, the joy of discovering myself at number 26 on the 1950 federal census form shown above! For a larger image, visit the source at: 1950census.archives.gov

A few surprises

Although I knew my parents had moved in with my maternal grandparents after I was born, the census entries nevertheless contained a few surprises.

Surprise No. 1. I thought I was six months old when my mom and dad made the move. Yet there I am at just 2 months old in the three-generation household in April 1950 — and with an “X” penciled next to my name, which merits further research.

Surprise No. 2. Then there are my grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s answers to the “extra questions,” since she was entry number 22. She indicates she has one year of college (C1) — not a surprise, as I already knew she attended a teacher training course at what is now State University of New York at Oneonta.

But in the column asking “Did you finish this grade?” she marked “No.” I always thought she completed the course. Now I’m wondering if her training was cut short when, at 18, she eloped with my grandfather Antonio Laurence. Again, more research to do!

Was anybody working?

Surprise No. 3. In work-related column 15, my grandmother and my mom — Peg (Laurence) Charboneau — both put “H” for homemaker, as expected.

However my mom’s sister Aunt Rita, my dad Norm Charboneau (an Engineer in the Television industry) and my grandfather Tony Laurence (a Mechanic at a Garage) all put “OT” — the code for “other,” according to the 1950 Census Instructions for Enumerators.

Aunt Rita was in college studying to be a blood bank technician, so her answer makes sense. However, my grandfather and my dad both indicated that they had not worked the previous week (col. 16), they were looking for work (col. 17) and that neither had a job or business (col. 18).

What a surprise to discover that nobody in the household was working at census time, so more sleuthing to do.

A fascinating snapshot

There is still much to unpack about the 1950 census entries for the three-generation Laurence-Charboneau household.

Yet I am thrilled to have access to this fascinating snapshot of the ancestors who surrounded me at the start of my life.

Stay tuned for more as I take a deeper dive into all that the 1950 census entries have to tell — and explore the backstories that the data reveals.

Up next, Gloversville’s 45 Grand Street in 1950. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2022 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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24 thoughts on “Finding myself in the 1950 U.S. Census”

  1. Hi Molly, I so enjoy what you are discovering about your parents, grandparents , etc. Thanks so much for sharing !

  2. Allow me to use old slang and say “How cool is that!” At the local library I could access a free Ancestry.com database for New York State. (Both my parents were born in New York City, as was I). I was going to “find time” and never did. I wonder what surprises would be in store for me if I made the time.

  3. What a find–yourself! Too bad this enumerator couldn’t spell. I noticed Norman was an engineer, television. That was early for such an occupation!

    1. Thanks, Marian. I actually thought it was cute that my name was misspelled — like so many ancestors before me. And yes, my dad was on the cutting edge of electronics in those days.

    1. I was crossing my fingers that I’d find myself. Some of my classmates are not so lucky because they were born in 1950 after the April census date. Alas, they must wait until the 1960 US census is released.

  4. What a fun, new series you are starting. I loved “my first census appearance”! How exciting to find yourself in a census, and how cool to find surprises in the census! I love surprises and learning new things! No surprises for me. I just learned one new detail, that one of my maternal great grandmothers, a coal miners daughter, only finished the 2nd grade! That gave me a little more insight into a coal mining family! 🙂

  5. Congratulations! It’s a kind of genealogist’s selfie pic Last week when I read that the 1950 census was released I went onto its new website and tried a search for my parents who were then still in college and not married. I found my dad, but his name is carried over to the second page and for some reason I can’t flip to the previous page where his grandmother is head of household. My mother and her parents were not listed at all, so I suspect it may take some time to digitize the entire set of census records and make it as searchable as Ancestry.com.

    Those extra questions can be very revealing if someone’s ancestor was lucky enough to win that lottery. In the 1940 census my maternal grandmother was a winner and under question #50: “Number of children ever born (Do not include stillbirths)” she recorded 2 children, even though my mother, age ten at the time, always considered herself an only child. It’s just a simple number and yet it holds an enormous family mystery that sadly I will never figure out the answer to as there is no one alive who would know why my grandmother gave that information. Some things must always remain unknown.

    1. I know what you mean. I am having trouble finding my paternal grandparents in 1950 and stymied by the lack of browsing capability at the moment. My paternal grandmother got the extra question in 1940 . From her response, I learned that although she worked long hours keeping an Adirondack hotel running and clients entertained enough to return year after year, she was not paid because it was a “family business” with my grandfather. I hope you eventually find the answer to your grandmother’s 1940 response.

  6. Gosh, I never thought to look for myself in the census lists! A neat idea and now look at all the additional & fun sleuthing you get to do and I’m not kidding about the “fun” part because it IS fun to sleuth around about your family – immediate and extended all . 🙂 It’ll be interesting, now, to see what you find out.

    1. Yes, fun it is! I have been looking up all the direct and collateral ancestors I can think of who were alive in 1950 — and finding most of them. But my paternal grandparents are no-shows so far — so the ancestor hunt is on to find them.

  7. How fun to get this new census and see what it has about our families. I haven’t looked yet. You’re lucky to be born in 1950 and not 1951.

    1. So true! The 1950 census was enumerated the first week of April, so only those like me, who were born before April, made the cut. Sad that many of my younger classmates will have to wait until the 1960 census rolls around.

  8. How fascinating. In my research of my grandmother’s brother and sister who emigrated to the US in the early 1900s, I had great help from finding them in the US census of 1910. In 1911 they went back to Sweden so I kind of caught them at the last moment 🙂 But it helped me understand what kind of job Gustaf had (at a lumber yard) and in what kind of household Gerda worked (as maid) during her last years in Chicago.

    1. How fortunate that Gustaf and Gerda were in the U.S. for the 1910 census. It’s a snapshot in time — but a revealing one, as you describe.

  9. I also appeared in the census in 1950 for the first time! So exciting! I was 3 years old. I am doing the A-Z Challenge all about my family in 1950. It was quite interesting to put events in order and find out what was happening.

    1. Congrats! Wasn’t it a thrill? I’m not doing A to Z this year, but will try to pop by and check out your posts. I also plan on writing a series on my 1950 US Census finds, beginning with this one.

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