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1960 Census: NARA’s Already Working Toward 2032

29 Nov 2022 6:11 PM | Anonymous

The following article is from the (U.S.) National Archives and Records Administration Blog:

NARA expects to release the 1960 census on April 1, 2032.  This is the first in a series of blog posts on the 1960 census.

Less than 10 years from now, on April 1, 2032, NARA expects to release the 1960 population census. Staff members are already at work to make this happen on time!  Why so soon?  The sheer volume of records makes it imperative.  There are 41,000 microfilm rolls of 1960 census records, which is 6.4 times more than the number of microfilm rolls for the 1950 census. The table below shows the number of accessioned census microfilm rolls received by NARA from the Bureau of the Census for the 1900 to 1960 censuses.  The number of rolls needed for each census depended upon the number of census pages, the length of microfilm used, the photographic reduction ratio, and the number of census pages filmed per roll.

Census Year

Number of

Microfilm Rolls

U.S. Population

1900 1,854 76,212,168
1910 1,784 92,228,496
1920 2.076 106,021,537
1930 2,668 123,202,624
1940 4,645 132,164,569
1950 6,373 151,325,798
1960 41,000 179,323,175


Why are there 41,000 16mm microfilm rolls? The 1960 census was conducted mostly by self-enumeration so each household has a separate census form. Separate forms meant more paper, and more paper meant more microfilm (photograph) images.  The paper forms were destroyed after microfilming.  In addition, 1960 census microfilm rolls tend to be around 100 feet in length, which is much shorter than most microfilm rolls from prior census years. 

What is NARA doing now?

    • We’ve started scanning the population census microfilm to create high quality digital images that will be released on April 1, 2032. As microfilm rolls are scanned, staff members will create “metadata” that identify state, county, Enumeration District number, and other necessary information.
    • We’ve started reviewing the administrative (background) records for interesting and useful records about the planning, taking, and analysis of the 1960 census. Digital images of some of these unrestricted records will be added to NARA’s Catalog over the next 10 years.  Our 1960 Census Blog post series will discuss that material.

What is NARA doing now?

Title 13 of the United States Code prohibits unauthorized disclosure of confidential census information, such as the 1960 and later population census records. NARA takes this responsibility seriously and protects the records in several ways:

    • NARA keeps confidential census microfilm in secure temperature and humidity controlled archival storage locations to which only specific designated individuals have access.
    • NARA limits the number of staff who work with confidential census records.  These staff members must be authorized by the Bureau of the Census (BOC) to work with confidential material and take the same annual training as employees of the BOC.  They are sworn for life (or until the materials are legally released for public use) to protect confidential census information.
    • NARA employees who are authorized to work with confidential census material are granted access only to the materials they need to conduct their immediate work assignments, and lose access to materials they no longer need to work with.
    • Digital images of restricted microfilmed census records are stored on secure servers that are not connected to the internet.

Census records tell us about the past, but archival institutions like NARA must continually think about and plan for the future.  As Fleetwood Mac once wrote, “Don’t stop thinking about the future, it will soon be here….”

Author's Note:  In the table above, the number of microfilm rolls is the total for both the United States and its territories and overseas possessions; the U.S. population figures are for the United States only.

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