After finding myself as an infant in the 1950 US census, I was puzzled by the penciled “X” next to my listing.
Was it a stray mark made by the census taker? Or a random notation during back office tabulations? Or was there some special meaning to the “X” next to my name (the only such marking on the page) — and where could I find the answer?
Help from the genealogy community
Fortunately, the genealogy community is generous with assistance when questions arise. So off I went to the 1950 US Census for Genealogists group on Facebook to post a query and to see what others were posting.
There are lots of experienced genealogists in the group, and it turned out I was not the only infant marked with an X because others had posted similar queries.
After many speculative comments about what this marking could mean, the definitive answer came from Joel Weintraub, co-author of the 1950 US census occupation decoder that I wrote about in a previous post. It turns out that the X likely indicated that an Infant Card was completed for that particular infant — in this case, me!
According to Weintraub, “Infant cards…were filled out ‘for every child born in January, February, or March 1950.'” And he speculated that “if the X does occur on infants born in those months, it might be a quality control that a supervisor might use for making sure every one of those X’d lines has an Infant Card.”
Becoming a statistic at 2 months
Naturally, I was excited at the prospect of seeing my completed Infant Card — my first statistical experience! But my hopes were quickly dashed upon learning that the original cards were destroyed once the data on them was tabulated.
What a shame to lose the additional information on those cards, as described in a blog post by Claire Kluskens on HistoryHub:
Although most of the information on the Infant Card could be copied from the population schedule, the enumerator had to ask the family for additional information, such as actual place of birth, name of hospital, type of attendant, and maiden name of mother.
Nevertheless, explains Kluskens, the Infant Cards served a valuable statistical purpose — and I’m relieved I survived to be part of it!
The Infant Cards served as the basis for studying the “undercount” of babies in two ways. The cards were to be matched by the National Office of Vital Statistics to birth registrations to determine (1) how many enumerated infants were not registered at birth and, conversely, (2) how many infants registered at birth were not enumerated in the 1950 census. [Sadly due to untimely death.]
The cards were likely destroyed because they repeated data available elsewhere — in state birth records, the 1950 US census, etc. Fortunately, I know the answers to the questions on the Infant Card — but I still would have liked to see my completed card. And I feel for genealogists and family historians who might have learned valuable information had the Infant Cards been preserved.
Up next, finding paternal relatives in the 1950 US census. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.
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