Snapshot of History in 1950

This article was written by Justin Ball

Whether you realized it or not, the United States Federal Census from 1950 is going to be available to the public today!  April 1st!  This is not an April Fool’s joke, people.

The more genealogy-oriented staff here at the Derby Library have been counting down the days to this event.  But why?  Well let’s talk about the census real quick.

Every ten years the United States conducts a federal census which is designed to count every resident in the United States.  This data is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities.  The first federal census in the United States was in 1790.  The records themselves are not released to the public until 72 years have passed.  So the 1940 census was released to the public in April of 2012.  The 1950 census will be released in April of 2022.  That is right now!

What does that have to do with you?  Well, the Census gives us a snapshot of history at the moment it is taken.  It shows how Americans were living, where they were living, who they were living with, and so much more.  Have you ever wanted more information about your family history?  The census is exactly what you and genealogists are looking for, I dare say it is the backbone of genealogy research in America.

I’m going to show you an example of a local family in the 1940 census right here in Derby, Kansas so you can get an idea of what kind of information you could find about your family.

Justin J. Butterfield and his son, Philo Butterfield

Justin J. Butterfield was a former mayor of Derby and ran the Farmers and Merchant State Bank in Derby for a number of years.  His son Erland Philo Butterfield (who went by Philo) worked as a teller at the Bank, eventually becoming the president of the bank.

Using Ancestry.com, we will bring up the 1940 Census and navigate to the state of Kansas, county of Sedgwick, Rockford Township, city of Derby.  The Butterfields were visited by an enumerator on April 19, 1940.

Beginning on line 28 we find Erland P. Butterfield as the Head of the Household.  Erland is living with his wife Nellie and his two sons, Darrell and Mandell.  The census shows each of their relation to the head of the household, gender, age.  Were they attending school?  If so what was the highest grade completed.

We learn from this census that Erland was born in Nebraska.  His occupation is listed as a cashier in the banking industry.  His income is listed as $1500.  His wife and children were born in Kansas but not much more information is found about them.  Check out the actual image below.  Where was your family located in 1940?  What information might be listed in the census for them?  Maybe you will find out something that you didn’t know.  Family secrets are more common than you might think.  You can then start going backwards and finding your family in each census and seeing how their lives have changed.  The next chapter is here with the 1950 census and we are all excited about it. 

Darrell Butterfield, son of Philo Butterfield

If you are interested in starting to research your family tree, give us a call and we can help start you on a path that, in my case, may very well consume a lot of your free time.  The Derby Library also has a free subscription to Ancestry that can be used inside the library if you are interested.  Come check us out!

Alyssa Larue
Latest posts by Alyssa Larue (see all)

Author: Alyssa Larue

I am the teen librarian at DPL and the epitome of a book nerd. When I'm not producing our teen or tween short films or getting glue everywhere while making a teen zine, I can usually be found with my nose in a classic, historical fiction, or fantasy read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *