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Digitizing Hand-Written Data with Automated Methods: A Pilot Project Using the 1990 U.S. Census

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Working Paper Number ADEP-WP-2021-06


While the U.S. Census Bureau has microdata files from the 1960 through 1990 Decennial Censuses, respondent names were never digitized. Names from these censuses are only available in handwritten form on the microfilmed images of the original census manuscripts. In this paper, we document the 1990 Census Name Recovery Pilot (NRP) project, which was used to identify the most accurate and cost-effective means to recover respondent names, focusing on the example of the 1990 census. In addition to describing the four stages of the project, the results of the NRP are presented in detail. The NRP showed that respondent names are able to be digitized with an accuracy that will support the integration of the 1960 through 1990 censuses into the Census Bureau’s infrastructure of linked data from censuses, surveys, and administrative records.

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