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Release of 1950s census data developed into snapshot of US

FILE - Kansas City restaurant patrons forget their food as they watch the early innings of the second World Series game at Philadelphia, Oct. 5, 1950. Genealogists and historians can get a microscopic look at sweeping historical trends when individual records from the 1950 census are released this week. Researchers view the records that will be released Friday, March 31, 2022 as a gold mine, and amateur genealogists see it as a way to fill gaps in family trees. (William Straeter, File)


Orlando, Florida-based Mike Schneider, AP’s primary census reporter, saw the routine release of 72-year-old census data as an opportunity to deliver a textured portrait of 1950s America, reminding readers just how much the U.S. has changed.

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Elmer W. Henderson, seated, whose lawsuit was the basis for a Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in railroad dining cars, orders food aboard a train in Washington, June 4, 1950. – AP Photo / William J. Smith

His story,posted a day ahead of the data release,took readers back to the first national count after World War II,the early years of the baby boom and a period when many American cities were hitting peak population levels. Schneider enlisted the help of AP’s photo archive to pull an assortment of photos from 1950,supplementing the written word with a rich cross-section of images from a bygone era.

Finally,Schneider explained how the new data could be used by readers to explore their own family history,fill in gaps in family trees and unearth interesting facts from the past that might be of interest to both professional and amateur genealogists.

The following day,in addition to covering the actual release of the new data, Schneider worked up a localizer to help AP members identify stories they could develop for their audiences from the new data.

Most major media outlets failed to see the storytelling potential of the data until Schneider’s innovative take appeared. At least one major national publication essentially mimicked AP’s approach — but its own version of the story didn’t appear until hours later.

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