The 1950 census is going public! Here are 3 strategies for making DNA connections using recent censuses. Good news: you don’t have to be an experienced genealogist–or a subscription website member–to search the 1950 U.S. census or use it to explore your DNA matches or build your family tree.
When a major historical census becomes publicly available, genealogists scramble to find their family members in it. That’s because many censuses, including the 1950 U.S. census, group entire households together. When you find your parent or grandparent (or even yourself) enumerated, you also find who that person was living with: parents, sibling, spouses, children, and even grandparents, cousins, and other relatives. You may be able to extend your family tree back in time to the prior generation, or forward in time to more descendants in the next generation.
In other words, you may find connections to your closest DNA matches, or even listings for your actual DNA matches!
Here are 3 ways you’ll want to use the 1950 U.S. census (or other most-recently-available censuses with family data) to make DNA connections.
1. Find your actual DNA matches
The 1950 census lists an estimated 26 million people who are still alive today. These people are 72 years old or older. Some of them have taken DNA tests. This means that some of your DNA matches make a personal appearance in the 1950 census.
To search for them, though, you’ll need to know names. Sometimes, your DNA matches’ screen names are also their real names. Some of your matches may have posted family trees (even unlinked trees) with their parents’ or grandparents’ real names on them. So, even if you don’t know your match’s real name, you can look for those parents or grandparents on the 1950 census. If your match was alive at the time, you might even find them in their parents’ households.
Not sure how to explore your AncestryDNA match list or find clues about your matches’ identities? Take our AncestryDNA Tour!
2. Explore how you’re related to your matches
What you learn about your DNA match and their family in the 1950 census may give you important clues about how you’re related. Where they lived in 1950 can be an important clue. So can a familiar surname, or even an uncommon first name (particularly for a woman, whose surname may have changed over time).
If your match’s family tree doesn’t show how you’re connected, you can use what you learn in the 1950 census to expand on their tree. Building out their family tree can lead to discoveries about where your trees intersect. This may occur as you build their tree deeper into the past and discover common great grandparents, or even 2x or 3x great grandparents. Or you may discover the connection when you build their tree forward into recent generations and suddenly recognize your match or their parents.
Strike up a conversation with your DNA match! Get our free guide to contacting your DNA matches.
3. Find people to test
The following passage from Your DNA Guide–the Book introduces how and why you might be looking for other cousins to take DNA tests:
Sometimes, all the DNA data at your current disposal isn’t enough to help you answer the question on your mind. Maybe your Best Matches aren’t responding, or despite your best efforts, you can’t build the tree connections with existing records and trees. So what if you could handpick a new Best Known Match? A specific descendant who just hasn’t tested yet, whose DNA test might contain the answer to your mystery? You can try it. This practice is called targeted testing.
Let’s say you’ve used strategies from The Book to determine that you need to find second or third cousins on a particular family line to test. Going to the 1950 census can help you find them–or at least find their parents or grandparents, whose identities can lead to those unknown cousins.
Where to explore recent censuses
You can explore the 1950 U.S. census for free at the National Archives (U.S.) website beginning April 1, 2022. Your favorite genealogy websites also have their own portals to the 1950 census, and some may have unique search tools or tips:
If your family trees aren’t in the United States, use these same ideas to search for them in the most recent census available, such as the 1930 Mexico census or 1921 census of England and Wales or 1921 census of Canada.
Next: Read this case study: Building your family tree and DNA connections with census records