Oh! That’s Why We Have a Census?

I was wondering what I would post about today. (Have you noticed I’ve kept my promise so far – a post every day this month?) An article in the local paper provided me with inspiration.

The article was about impending issues with the upcoming 2020 US Census, which could become a national debacle. Apparently, the department is underfunded, understaffed and behind on deadlines. The Census Department wants to conduct at least half of the census online, which could result in extreme under-reporting due to concerns about cyber-security and immigration issues. (Thanks for telling us where you are, Mr. and Mrs. Immigrant – now get out!!)

Now – I don’t think much about WHY we have a national census. As a genealogist,  it provides me with much needed  (albeit sometimes incorrect) information regarding my ancestors. The clues can point me in the right direction or verify facts found elsewhere. But, surprise of surprises, our founding fathers were NOT thinking of genealogy when they mandated a decennial (every 10 years) census in the US Constitution, beginning in 1790. You can read about the history the of the US Census here.

So, what is the true purpose of the Census? The census was originally mandated to assist in determining congressional districts. The census tracks the population changes, and shifts in congressional districts can be redrawn accordingly. The census numbers also help the government to determine funding allocations for highway construction, energy assistance, healthcare and food assistance, and more.

Two quick facts:

1. The US census is released to the public 72 years after it is taken, due to privacy issues. So, the most recent census we have available for our use is the 1940 census, which was released in 2012.

2. Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire in 1921. You can read about what little is available here and here. Twenty years is a huge gap for our families’ histories. You can get some ideas on using substitutes for the 1890 census here.

So, thank you, Founding Fathers! You had no idea 227 years ago how helpful your decision to enumerate the population would be to us! And to you, my readers, when the Census worker comes knocking on your door (or your technology device) in 2020 – please participate!!!

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