The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The first census records of four American presidents — almost

A collage of records from the 1950 U.S. Census. (Philip Bump/The Washington Post)
7 min

This article has been updated.

Japan surrendered in mid-August 1945, finally ending World War II. About nine months later, a baby boom began in the United States.

The boom wasn’t solely a function of the war; it lasted almost two decades, after all. But it began in the middle of 1946, not by coincidence, changing the path of the United States to this day.

That redirection includes an underrecognized statistical coincidence. So many kids were born in the middle of 1946 that we have drawn not one but three presidents from that period. America’s first three baby-boom presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump — were all born within about two months of each other in mid-1946.

On Friday, the Census Bureau released the individual records collected during the 1950 Census. (Bureau policy is to maintain the privacy of census documents for 72 years.) There has probably never been a census release in which so many living Americans can trace their own roots, given the size of the baby boom and the extended life expectancy that boomers enjoy. And that offers us an interesting historical challenge: digging up the first census records of our first three baby-boom presidents.

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As you will see, this is not as easy as it might seem. The bureau has a very impressive search tool that is able to parse even the less-legible scribblings of its 1950 enumerators (the term for its record collectors). But some records are trickier to uncover, as you’ll see.

What emerges from our search for those presidents are very American stories about seeking better jobs, ambition and making the best of difficult circumstances. We’ll begin with the oldest of the three.

Donald Trump (June 14, 1946)

If you plug the name “Trump” into the bureau’s search tool, you quickly discover that there is no easy record for Donald Trump or his father, Fred. So already we need to do things the hard way: Find the record for his childhood home at 85-15 Wareham Place in Queens and see what the bureau’s enumerators found.

Wareham Place was in enumeration district 41-1457, allowing us to narrow down the specific record for Trump’s street. (These maps, too, are made available by the bureau.) And 85-15 Wareham is on the east side of the street, near the left edge of the circle labeled “464” below.

Scanning the left edge of the census records, where streets are listed, we find 85-15 Wareham. And we discover that, in 1950, the house was occupied by Vera Kloster and her siblings.

As it turns out, 1950 was an important year for the Trump family. That was the year that they moved to a new, larger house — one that sat on a lot whose rear boundary touched the rear boundary of the house on Wareham Place. On the map above, it sits about where the second “4″ in “464” is shown, on a street called Midland Parkway.

We flip through the enumeration records a bit further, and we find it: 85-14 Midland Parkway. And when the enumerator, Jeremiah Murphy, showed up, no one was home.

When this article was first published, two readers wrote in to raise an important point: The census documents also include revisits, the stops enumerators make to places where they couldn’t contact someone the first time. And, sure enough, as Rebecca Davis and Stan Berman pointed out to me, there was the full Trump clan when Murphy stopped by again later that day.

The future president’s age isn’t quite right, but what parent of five (including an infant!) can remember every age at the drop of a hat?

George W. Bush (July 6, 1946)

We move on to George W. Bush, born in Connecticut. But we find no record there for the Bush family, even though his grandfather’s was soon elected senator from that state. For the Bushes, too, 1950 was a time of change. His father, future president George H.W. Bush, was trying to make it in business, moving to California in 1949 and then to Midland, Tex., the next year. (The name “Midland” working to goose the coincidences a bit.)

Eventually, they would settle down on West Ohio Street, but at the time of the census, I believed, were living on East Maple Street (“known at the time as ‘Easter Egg Row’ because of the bright-colored residences,” the Midland Reporter-Telegram reports). So we can once again look at our enumeration map to figure out where we might start going street-by-street.

There’s just one problem. The map doesn’t show Maple Street. It would be somewhere in the circle below, not yet drawn on the map.

Because of the addition of new streets (mostly named after tree varieties), the Bush home can be found in enumeration district 165-1A. That so many of the homes in the area are new is reflected in Edna McDonald’s documentation: House after house is listed as “vacant.”

Including the one that would eventually house two Presidents Bush.

Was this a mistake? Had the Bushes not yet moved in as of May 2? There is a George W. Bush listed in Odessa, Tex., where the family lived before Midland, but he’s 54 years old and married to a woman named Easter, which aligns with neither president.

Stan Berman again came to the rescue. It turns out that at least one future president — George H.W. Bush — was included in the census. Not in Midland, though, but in the family’s apartment in Compton, Calif. (During the elder Bush’s 1992 presidential campaign, with violent crime endemic in Southern California, this historical housing factoid attracted some attention.)

Los Angeles County was an early entrant into the oil industry, you may recall, which appears to be why Bush was there. The form shows his occupation as “salesman, oil field equipment.” There’s no mention of his wife, Barbara, or any children, however. So even with Mr. Berman’s excellent sleuthing, George W. Bush’s first census mention would have to wait another decade.

Bill Clinton (Aug. 19, 1946)

Then we come to the youngest of the three presidents born that year, William Jefferson Clinton.

As you may know, Bill Clinton wasn’t born Bill Clinton. He took his stepfather’s name as a teenager. He was born William Jefferson Blythe III. (His biological father died shortly before he was born.) As a young child, he lived with his grandparents in Hope, Ark.

And there he is.

He’s incorrectly identified as “Jefferson W. Blythe,” you’ll notice, but the names of his grandparents are correctly listed. So is his age: In April 1950, he would indeed have been 3.

Imagine, with the benefit of hindsight, being enumerator Rosella Guillen, walking the streets of Hope on April 12 and knocking on the door of the Cassidys. You take their information and maybe even meet a little toddler on the other side of the screen door. Forty-two years later, that little kid would be elected president of the United States.

Now imagine being Edna McDonald in Midland and missing the chance to meet two future presidents at once by a matter of months. History is a fluky thing, and sometimes coincidences are missed.

Update: After this story was published, I was reminded that, while Trump-through-Clinton marks the first of the boomer presidents, the 1950 census marks the first record of another president: Joe Biden.

His record was easy to find, thanks largely to it being shared by Megan Smolenyak on Twitter. And so:

Big Biden representation there on North Washington Avenue.