NARA Staff Collaborate for Improved Access to the 1950 Census

An enumeration district (ED), as used by the Bureau of the Census, was an area that could be covered by a single enumerator (census taker) in one census period. Enumeration districts varied in size from several city blocks in densely populated urban areas to an entire county equivalent in sparsely populated rural areas.

During the design of the 1950 Census website, several stakeholders requested that the search results include the display of the 1950 Census enumeration district descriptions. The enumeration district descriptions, coupled with the enumeration district maps, help researchers to identify which population schedules are relevant to their research.

The image below shows a result from the soon to be released 1950 Census website. The 1950 Census website, currently in development, will be released to the public on April 1, 2022. The search result is for enumeration district 16-20 in Montgomery County, Maryland. There are 46 pages of population schedules. The enumeration district description describes the boundaries of enumeration district 16-20. The maps, accessible by clicking the ED Maps button, include postal route maps, General Land Office maps, soil survey maps, and maps produced by city, county, and state government offices as well as commercial printers. Census officials then drew the enumeration district boundaries and numbers on the base maps.   

Users will also be able to click on the ED Description button to view the digitized image of the Enumeration district description.

NARA staff  digitized over 62,000 pages of 1950 Census enumeration district descriptions. The Office of Innovation processed the images with Amazon’s Textract tool, which resulted in OCR output representing 234,447 enumeration district descriptions. The Textract output was organized into spreadsheets by state/territory and more than 25 NARA staff across the agency are now in the process of cleaning up and formatting the OCR output for display on the 1950 Census website. The project is scheduled to be completed at the end of February. To date, NARA staff have completed the cleanup and formatting of the OCR output of more than 100,000 enumeration district descriptions.   

I am proud of the staff from across the agency who have volunteered to collaborate on improving the enumeration district descriptions. They are all motivated to make access happen and to improve the customer experience for the 1950 Census. 

Displaying the enumeration district data text in search results on the 1950 Census website will assist researchers in determining which population schedules are relevant to their research.  Adding the text also improves accessibility to the enumeration district descriptions for the visually impaired.  The digitized images will be accessible in the National Archives Catalog and the enumeration district description images and text will be available for bulk download as part of the full 1950 Census dataset on Amazon’s Open Data Platform in a way that encourages development of websites and applications that present census data in a myriad of ways that the public can use.