Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stand Up And Be Counted: Census 2010

Well, we just received our Census form Monday and it looks like the easiest Census I can ever remember. I’m sure that in part it’s because they really want it to be a no brainer so more people than last time will complete and send it in. There are no questions about income, and not really much beyond what is your name and when were you born.

Just for the heck of it I pulled out some old census form from the 1800’s to see what kinds of things they asked back in the old days when a census taker would actually go door-to-door and talk to every household.

Somewhere about twenty years ago I had done some serious genealogical research which led me into all the various arcane ways people dig up their pasts. I was striving to verify that what was rumored about our family being direct descendants of Daniel Boone was in point of fact a fact. I learned at the time that one can rent from the local library, for three dollars a roll, a microfiche of every census ever taken. In order to do this properly, though, you have to actually research the history of the geographical region where your kin were located. For example, my kin were from Lee County, Kentucky. But Lee County did not exist before 1870, so I had to obtain records for Owsley County, which itself was created from Clay, Estill and Breathitt Counties in 1943. Many Owsley County records were destroyed in disasters in 1929 and 1967.

Estill County was created from Clark and Madison Counties in 1808. A disaster in 1964 destroyed some of these records. But, Estill County Censuses were still available for 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840 and 1850. And for what it's worth, the North half of Lee County was once part of Bourbon County. (Which came first, the bourbon or the county name?)

Kentucky itself obtained statehood in 1792, so in the 1790 census it was designated Kentucky County, Virginia, and there was a census that year which included a John Newman, whom we have reason to believe was one of our early Newman settlers there. I have photocopies of many of these censuses, and the first, in 1790, was clearly intended to simply get a count.

By 1850, the government was interested in quite a bit more info. In addition to names, age, sex and color of all members of a household, they also wanted to know your occupation, the value of your real estate, your birthplace, how long you have been married, amount of schooling, whether or not you can read, enumeration date, and a space for additional remarks by the census taker.

By 1870 this evolved to where they not only wanted your real estate value, but the value of your property. They also ask if your father and mother were foreign born or not. Again they asked whether you can read or write (someone else is taking this down) and how many in the household were eligible to vote.

For the record, each year throughout the late 1800’s when the question was asked regarding being able to read or write, the answer was no. For many a-decade we Newmans were illiterate hillbillies.

So here it is, another census year. And there were no questions about where you folks were from, or how much your house is worth. Or even whether you can read or write. Or whether you’re a vegetarian or carnivore. Or whether you prefer Coke or Pepsi.

If you haven’t received your 2010 Census yet, it’s coming soon. It’s painless, and will be over as quick as a wink. Just make sure you slide it into the envelope correctly. You’ll see what I mean when you get there.

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