1950 Census Photo provided by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Release of 1950 Census proves to be useful research tool

By Shelia Kirven
June 1, 2022

Many tools are available to help with conducting family research, including the recently released 1950 U.S. Census records and at-home DNA testing kits. Both can provide helpful information, with census records being a vital part of the research. DNA test results, however, remain less reliable when attempting to prove tribal ancestry.

Census records remain the gold standard for researching ancestors. A census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution and provides totals for the nation’s populations. It takes 72 years for the U.S. Government to release a new decade’s version to the public due to the privacy of individuals in the records.

The newly released records represent the Baby Boom generation. According to archives.gov, they contain 151 million people and 33,378 additional census pages from Indian reservations.

The records show household member names, locations, ages, states born in, marital status, military service and occupations. It even shows which families owned television sets at that time. Race also begins to be broken down more.

Census records are valuable because they help provide names to people’s family members and put them in locations at certain times.

“In Indian Territory, we have been getting a census since 1900. For someone who thinks they may be Choctaw, 1900 was important because it tells where someone was living at that time. In 1950, a lot of people’s grandparents were living and [census records tell us] what they were doing and who was in the household,” Gwen Takes Horse, Choctaw Nation Genealogy/ Research Specialist. “They need to be able to do a family tree, starting with themselves and working backwards. When they get to 1950, they are going to see someone like grandparents or great-grandparents and you’re working back to get to 1900 to find where your relatives were living. You’re not looking to see if they’re Native American; you’re just trying to find your family back to 1900. If they were living in southeastern Oklahoma, there might be a chance they were Choctaw.”

At that point, the Dawes Records need to be consulted to see if anyone on the family tree signed up affiliating with a tribe.

According to Takes Horse, Ancestry.com will give researchers districts and counties. Researchers can enter a name, state and county, then go page by page due to the 1950 Census not being indexed yet.

Takes Horse explained that the site has only a few states indexed at this time and that the advantage of indexing is being able to locate names easily. Users will need to pull up the county and state rather than the individual name they are searching to go page by page.

An added function on the National Archives website is the ability to search the state and county, and it will find each person by the name(s) listed.

With census records, researchers can see who lived next door to their family by looking at the families below, and above them, on the page, they are listed. The older censuses were recorded manually by a census taker door-to-door. This is consistent with the 1950 census as well. This information can open possibilities to reach out to others who may be able to fill in gaps in research.

“A great part of history is recorded in these records as well and what was going on in American society at the time,” Greg Peterson, Choctaw Nation Genealogy/Research Program Manager.

According to Peterson, the census records are helpful to open doors for those who didn’t know their ancestors were in the military and give opportunities to do more research on families’ military histories.

The official website of the 1950 Census is 1950census.archives.gov.

Researchers can search the census by name or identify their relatives’ geographic area in 1950 and then browse the census population schedules for that enumeration district.

With the advance in science in genealogical research, many are now turning to at-home DNA tests to find clues in their family histories. There are a variety of tests available for purchase and most are simple to use, with results available within a few weeks.

Data privacy differs from each company, and users should review the privacy policy and determine their limits for risk before purchase and testing. Tests are relatively inexpensive, but with the purchase of add-ons, the cost can quickly add up.

DNA tests give percentages of ethnicity estimates and areas from which ancestors may have come. Some provide information about matches for biological family members who have taken the same test, and some may even offer health indicators. Results are based on databank information and algorithms. A recent New York Times article reported most DNA samples to consist of samples from those with European ancestry.

DNA test results can vary. Individuals may take tests from various companies and get different results. This is because testing services may use markers that provide a diverse representation of ethnicity.

Sometimes ancestral DNA results can be shocking, and test-takers get results they did not anticipate, such as proof of biological parents and siblings who differ from what they knew. It is best to keep an open mind before doing a DNA test.

Inherited genetic markers can play havoc with ethnicity results, resulting in small amounts not appearing on test results. The results of siblings will be similar but may not show the same results. According to National Geographic, siblings only share about 50% of the same DNA on average.
Peterson also said to keep in mind that it may be because of the percentage for those whose Native American blood does not show on their DNA results.

“With the genetic markers, it may be such a small amount that it doesn’t register on the test,” said Peterson.

If researchers have Native American ancestry on their test results, it may show as vague as “Indigenous Americas North.” Test results usually will not pinpoint specific tribes.

Ancestry’s website explains its results are broken down by geographical region (Indigenous Americas). It also states that because many Native Americans carry DNA from multiple tribes and non-Indigenous DNA, it can be hard to distinguish between tribes.

The Choctaw Nation does not use DNA test results to verify Native American blood.

Peterson said, “Choctaw Tribal Code states you must have a CDIB to be a member. If you have a CDIB, you must be able to trace your ancestry back to someone on the Dawe’s Rolls with a blood quantum. As a researcher goes, DNA tests are great to fill in the gaps with your genealogy and what you have questions about.”

He continued, “If you show you are Indigenous on a test, that does not necessarily tie you to a single tribe or, more importantly, to a single individual of that tribe. That’s what is important for membership. We must be able to trace you back to an individual who was on a roll that was registered with a tribe.”

DNA testing cannot determine eligibility and should only be used as resource information.

After taking a DNA test, researchers’ next steps should be to consult census records. If researchers don’t know where their relatives lived, they can go to census records, find lineal ancestors, and put them into places that might help identify what tribe they could be a part of.

“That’s what we always tell people when they call,” said Peterson. “Take yourself and work backwards.”
Because the science of ancestral DNA testing is expanding and companies are adding more data to their reference panels, test results may update from time to time.

Peterson said, “With science like this, the more information they receive, the more this stuff changes.”

Regardless of the method used for research, a paper trail of birth and death certificates going back to an enrollee on the Dawes Rolls is a must to be able to validate Native American ancestry and to be able to apply for tribal membership.

The Choctaw Nation Genealogy Department can be reached by emailing [email protected] or 800-522-6170.