Census notebook: 1950 handwritten records released, including those for Bloomington

On the first of April, the handwritten records of enumeration for the 1950 census were released by the National Archives.

That conforms with the “72-year rule,” which says the census records get released 72 years after Census Day.

Here’s a few vignettes from Bloomington’s 1950 records.

At 515 N. Park St, there was a 35-year-old man working in the industry of “city government” who lived in a household with his 33-year-old wife, and their two sons, and his 19-year-old sister-in-law, and a 63-year-old housekeeper.

That was Bloomington’s mayor at the time, Thomas H. Lemon. The population that year was measured at 28,160 people, or about a third the size Bloomington is now.

Was the position of mayor of the much smaller city a “full time” job? Apparently so. The 1950 records say that in the week before the census taker knocked on his door, Lemon worked 72 hours.

Heading up the household at 418 E. 8th Street was  60-year-old John Mayes. It was home to a dozen and a half young Black male roomers, with occupation listed as “OT” for “other,” a designation that looks like it was used for university students.

The IU football great George Taliaferro is not among the roomers at 418 E. 8th Street listed in the 1950 census—he was picked by the Chicago bears in the 1949 NFL draft. But that’s where he lived when he arrived on campus in 1945.

The detail about Taliaferro is the kind of thing that can be filled in by Christine Friesel, community librarian with Monroe County public library.

Friesel and Megan McDonald, who is the research library manager for Monroe County History Center, hosted a drop-in session on Saturday, for Bloomington residents interested in using the online tools recently unveiled by the National Archives.

Searching by name within a geographic area, like Indiana, Monroe County, or Bloomington, is pretty straightforward.

But if you want to browse by geographic area, Friesel and McDonald recommend starting with a website operated by genealogist Steve Morse.  What you can find easily on Morse’s website is the “enumeration district” (ED) number for the narrowest area you want to browse. Each ED has a few dozen sheets called “population schedules” that contain the handwritten documentation made by the census takers.

When the 1950 census records were released, Friesel told the B Square there was a historical detail she wanted to check into, connected to some of her previous research. Friesel contributed some background for Michelle Gottschlich’s 2018 piece for the Limestone Post about Edwin Fulwider’s memoir. Fulwider was a Bloomington-born artist who achieved some prominence in his field.

What Friesel wanted to know is whether Fulwider’s parents were still together in 1950. No. In the column for marital status, the 1950 census lists Florence Fulwider as “Sep” for separated.

Living in Florence Fulwider’s as a roomer was 25-year-old Frank Clark, who worked for the “daily newspaper” as an advertising salesman. According to the 1950 census, in the week before he was counted for the census, Clark worked 50 hours at his job selling ads for the local paper.

Sample pages from the 1950 census

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