Ancestral Occupation Codes in the 1950 US Census

Sepia Saturday 622. Fifth in a series about family history discoveries in the recently released 1950 U.S. census.

Recently, fellow blogger and author Marian Burk Wood wrote a post about Decoding Ancestor Occupations in the 1950 US Census.

Apparently after the census takers went door to door, there was back office work to code everything for statistical purposes — resulting in occupation numbers being added to those who were working.

To help researchers discover what these codes mean, Stephen P. Morse and Joel D. Weintraub have created an online deciphering tool — and I couldn’t wait to try it after reading Marian’s blog!

2017: Former A.B. DuMont Labs building in Clifton, NJ, now demolished. My dad, a Navy veteran, worked at DuMont as a college grad and newlywed right before the 1950 US census. When asked about his last occupation, he described his DuMont job. Photo: jerseydigs.com

Dad’s DuMont occupation code

At census time in 1950 my dad, Norm Charboneau, was between jobs since my parents and maternal grandparents were planning to go into business together. So, the census taker put OT (for other) under occupation and indicated he was looking for work.

Fortunately, the census form had the job description covered since it further asked, “If looking for work, describe last job or business.” So my dad’s entry said “Engineer” in the “Television” industry.

Later, back at the census office, Dad’s response was coded “044-659-1.” That’s ‘s what I plugged into the Morse-Weintraub decoder — and voilà!

My dad’s decoded job description from the 1950 US Census. Source: Stephen P. Morse and Joel D. Weintraub 1950 Census Occupation decoder

In his resume, Dad said he worked as a Quality Control Engineer at DuMont Labs in Clifton, N.J. — which also operated a television network. But he told me that, given how new television was in 1948, the job also involved convincing consumers to buy a DuMont TV set — with a promise of repairs if anything went wrong.

He left DuMont in 1950 to return to New York State with me and my mom — but a record of his first post-college job remains in the 1950 US Census.

Gramps’s self employment occupation code

Meanwhile, my maternal grandfather Tony Laurence (aka Gramps) was also enumerated in the 1950 US Census as OT (other) — because he, too, was looking for work.

Nov. 30, 1933: Ad for my grandfather Tony Laurence’s garage and parts business in Gloversville, N.Y. from the St. Johnsville, N.Y. Enterprise. My mom told me his line of work helped the family survive the Great Depression because everyone would repair their car then rather than buy a new one. Source: fultonhistory.com

Before the 1950 US census, Gramps operated a garage and auto parts business at 86 E. Fulton St., Gloversville, N.Y. (today the location of a discount beverage business). My mom told me his line of work helped the family survive the Great Depression because everyone would repair their car then rather than buy a new one.

By 1950, however, Gloversville was in decline and my maternal grandparents wanted to launch a family business elsewhere, along with my parents. So by census time Gramps had sold the garage and their house, and my grandparents were living in a rental apartment.

Nevertheless, for the census he gave his last job as a “Mechanic” in the “Garage” business — giving him the occupation code of “550-816-1” — which the Morse-Weintraub decoder translated as follows.

My maternal grandfather’s decoded job description from the 1950 US Census. Source: Stephen P. Morse and Joel D. Weintraub 1950 Census Occupation decoder

No surprises, but still fun

Alas, there were no real surprises in the occupation codes for my dad and grandfather. But it was still fun to run their numbers through the decoder and get a bit more detail than the few words on the census form.

And who knows? I have more ancestors and collateral relatives to search for in the 1950 US census, so there could still be surprises around the corner.

Up next, my lost Infant Card from the 1950 US census. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2022 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Similar Posts:

Please like and share:

15 thoughts on “Ancestral Occupation Codes in the 1950 US Census”

  1. What an insightful post! I had read her blog too, and had found it interesting. I did not know about Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub creating the Morse-Weintraub decoder; I’ll have to check it out just for fun! Thanks for the fun post and the heads up! 🙂

  2. That Census Code Breaker is a really useful tool. I can’t count the number of times I’ve shouted “Yessss!” whenever I’ve found “musician” in the occupation column on a census form confirming the identity of some musician’s photo. It’s interesting how census records evolved to include different kinds of information. I imagine that the number codes in 1950 allowed for efficient entry using keypunch card systems. By chance I have a favorite bumper sticker that reads “I Am Not A Number!” from the 1960s British TV series, The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan. Number 6 must stand for secret agent.

    1. I think the census decoder would be particularly helpful for musicians because it might give detail about whether they played in an orchestra, small group — or at least how the Census Bureau viewed their work statistically. Glad to hear you were a fan of “The Prisoner.” I loved that show in the 1960s — never looked at balloons the say way again 🙂

  3. Yours and others’ mentionings of the 1950s US census lately inspired me recently to check out if we had similar records available online here in Sweden. The last one made public online here so far was 1930, and it did prove interesting to confirm some things for me although not really telling me much I didn’t already know. (No codes involved in that one.)

  4. Nothing tried, nothing gained! Smart thinking. And who knows. The system may not have turned up anything really new this time, but next time? It may be the answer to a long-wondered question? :))

    1. Totally agree. I plan to run more occupation checks once I locate all my ancestors./relatives of interest in the 1950 US census.

      1. Thanks, Susan. These are indeed statistical codes. Who imagined that we would later use them for information about our ancestors?

Comments are closed.