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Stop the Census Insanity

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From the standpoint of a genealogist and a historian, I want a census.  I want an accurate census and I want certain questions asked. As a Republican, I do not find a census intrusive, unconstitutional, or the sign of things to come. 

Census records are important when one is proving a lineage for a historical or genealogical society.  They are important when one is doing historical research.  They are a moment in time, that tells us where a person was on a specific day.   The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2) requires a census every 10 years, of everyone residing in the United States. For those conspiracy minded individuals and libertarians who think they need not give more than the basic name, rank, and serial number, they are showing their abject historical ignorance.

The first US Census in 1790 required the name of the head of the household.  Also counted were the number of free white males 16 and up, number of free white males under 16, number of free white females, number of all free persons, except for Indians not taxed.  Also counted were the number of slaves.

In 1800 the same questions were asked, only the age groups were further subdivided.  Free white males, free white females and slaves were counted.  Indians were not.  Only the name of the head of the household was taken.

In 1810 the same questions were asked.  Only the name of the head of the household was taken.  No other names were important.  No Indians were counted.

In 1820 the count was further expanded.  Also asked was the name of the head of the family, persons who are foreigners who were not naturalized, persons engaged in agriculture, persons engaged in commerce, persons engaged in manufacturing.  There was a breakdown of ages male and female slaves.  There was also for the first time a category for free male and female “colored” persons with a breakdown of ages.  Indians still were not counted.

In 1830 they kept it simple.  They wanted the name of the head of the family, address, number of free white males and females, number of slaves and free colored persons, and the number of deaf and dumb with a break-down of ages.  Also counted were the blind and those not naturalized.

In 1840 the same questions were asked, along with the number of insane and idiotic in public and private charge.  They needed the number of persons in each family employed, number of schools an scholars, number of white persons over 20 who could not read and write.  Also counted were the number of pensioners for Revolutionary or military service.

Things changed in 1850.  Everyone was counted by name, address, age, sex, color (white, black or mulatto) if they were deaf and dumb, blind, insane or idiotic, the value of the real estate they owned, their occupation, place of birth, if they were married that year, attending school that year, unable to read or write if they were over 20, and if they were either a pauper or convict. 

The same questions were asked in 1860 and 1870.  In 1870 Chinese and Indian were finally allowed to be counted.  Also counted was citizenship for males over 21.

In 1880 everything changed.  The census was divided into five parts:  Population, Mortality, Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Social Statistics.  The process took 7 years to complete. 

The 1890 census changed many things.  It was also destroyed by fire in 1921.  The following questions were asked including name, address, gender, age, marital status, married within the year, number of families in house, number of persons in house, whether a soldier, sailor or marine (Union or Confederate) during Civil War, or widow of such person, relationship to head of family, race, described as white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian, mother of how many children, and number now living, place of birth of person, and their father and mother, if foreign born, number of years in US, whether naturalized, whether papers have been taken out.

Also asked were profession, months unemployed during census year, ability to read and write, ability to speak English, and, if unable, language or dialect spoken, whether suffering from acute or chronic disease, with name of disease and length of time afflicted.

Was the person defective in mind, sight, hearing or speech, or whether crippled, maimed or deformed, with name of defect, whether a prisoner, convict, homeless child, or pauper, home rented, or owned by head or member of family, and, if owned, whether free from mortgage, if farmer, whether farm is rented, or owned by head or member of family; if owned, whether free from mortgage; if rented, post office box of owner.

In 1900 the process was simplified to name, address, relationship to head of family, sex, race, age, marital status, number of years married, number of children born to women, immigration, months not employed, education, ability to speak English, if on a farm, and did they rent or own their home.

Basically the same questions were asked in 1910 and 1920, along if naturalized, mother tongue of person and parents, year of immigration, blind, deaf or dumb, and if they were a survivor of the Union or Confederate Armies.

In 1930 the same questions were asked along with asking if they owned a radio, lived on a farm, veteran status, and if they were an Indian, what tribal affiliation.

The question about the radio was dropped in 1940, but people were asked the value of their property.  In 1950 the only questions were name, address, if on a farm, relationship to head of household, race, sex, age, marital status, birthplace, if foreign born weather naturalized, employment status, number of hours worked a week, and occupation.

A long form of 100 questions went to 25% of households in 1960.  Those who did not receive the long form were asked address, name, relationship to head of household, sex, race, age, and marital status.  In 1970 the same questions were asked with 20% of households receiving the long form.  In 1980 only 16% of households received the long form.  The same thing was true in 1990 and 2000.

Conservatives who are waiting to shoot down those black helicopters or just waiting for Obama’s Army to invade their household are making fools of themselves.  Until recently the census was taken by hand, with every household being visited. 

Democrats aren’t faultless in this process.  Whoever is in charge for the Obama Administration has made the whole process some hyped-up, hip-hop exercise.  They have made fools of themselves with jingles, commercials, and advertising the remuneration as a way a “community” can get free stuff from the government.

Conservatives who claim the whole process is “intrusive” are basically behaving like uneducated fools who do not know history.  Liberals who claim the process is a way to “enrich the community” are just as bad.  It has reached the point where I don’t know who is worse, the monkey-wrenching conservatives and libertarians or the as asinine promotion of the Obama Administration.  Both are equally disgusting.

Like Chico Marx said in Duck Soup, “You can’t fool me, there ain’t no Sanity Claus!”

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About SJ Reidhead

  • This was my first experience of being censified by the US, and I must say it did get a little ridiculous. I mean, there was the notice we all got telling us we were about to get a census form, then the actual census form, then a notice telling us they’d recently sent us a census form, then a letter about the notice about the recent census form… phew.

    Maybe they’re just trying to make it easier to do a census of trees.

  • I just think the whole process has been over-blown, hyped, and turned into something absurd. About six weeks ago census forms for certain areas were literally dumped on rural post offices throughout the country. The postmaster was then assigned the task of locating the person, etc. where the forms belonged, even if the “resident” used a different post office.

    The process has become insane.


  • About 25 years ago I worked on a local history project which involved indexing census returns for an area of south London from 1801 to 1881 (the latest data available at the time: under UK law, census returns are kept confidential for 100 years). This was before the days of powerful, searchable computer databases, so everything had to be handwritten onto index cards and filed carefully in drawers.

    As in the US, the UK takes a national census every 10 years. 1801 was the first, and was simply a count of the number of people in a given town or village. By 1881 the survey had become much more detailed and there was a wealth of information available for historical and genealogical researchers. It was fascinating to see the movement of people, the make-up of communities and the growth of London’s suburbs, and the changes in the kind of data which the government felt it important to collect over the decades.

    Unlike in the US (I think), the British census is treated more like a ‘snapshot’ of the nation. You are required to report exactly who is in your household on a given night (April 15th, IIRC) – regardless of whether they actually live there or are just visiting. Which can be a bit misleading, but it does give a more reliable indication of population.

    Regardless of the country, collecting a census is a daunting project, and because they’re usually taken only every ten years nobody really knows what they’re doing – hence the farcical nature of some attempts at data collection!

    I’m not sure, though, how much information does need to be collected. If it’s for the stated purposes, it seems to me that a market research company could do a better job of collecting some of that data.

  • Not to mention, Dreadful, the entire computer program especially designed for 2010 Census was riddled with errors and had to be scrapped.

    I’m not really surprised why people clamor about the inefficiency of government projects and the resulting waste. One has got to look no further than this.

  • Baronius

    I haven’t run across any anti-Census things, other than complaints about the race questions.

  • What is so crazy is they’ve always asked versions of the race question.

    About 10 years ago I was working on my DAR papers. I needed a second proof linking my grandfather Reidhead to his parents. Fortunately the time frame had additional state and county census. I went through the 1900 and 1910 census – he was never at home! He was always visiting with his cousins. I found a local census, finally with the specific “proof” I needed since we did not have a birth certificate!

    It was great, and tells me something about him as a kid, always out visiting, probably annoying his parents the way my sister did ours and my niece does.

    I feel sorry for people who don’t understand the treasure of information a census can deliver.


  • 1) they spent money on sending out a letter a week before it arrived telling me it would arrive in a week. 2) They spent money on a mailout the week after I got it reminding me to send it in. 3) they spend loads of cash making mediocre TV ads I guess trying to increase the PR of “getting your fair share”, and 4) They still mail it out when we posses internet technology. Please try and convince me the government doesn’t waste our tax dollars. It will fall on very calloused and grizzled ears.

  • Waste is not the word. Pissing away is more like it.

  • That’s the whole point. Both sides are making fools of themselves.

    The whole thing is the way money has been flushed. Does anyone in the Obama Administration understand the idea that one is not to spend every cent?


  • Arch Conservative

    The census is Obama’s ticket to a second term.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Yeah, Arch! Great comment! Stick with it, and tell all your conservative buddies to NOT fill out the census! Remember, the census is nothing but a vast left-wing conspiracy, so any REAL conservative should do the patriotic thing and NOT fill it out!

    Dave? Clavos? Christine? et al?

    Unfortunately, most BC conservatives are smart enough to know how important the census is to all Americans, and that by not filling out the census, they’re really just shooting themselves in the foot. But maybe, just maybe, with help from people like Michelle Bachmann and those who think like her, a lot fewer conservatives will resist filling out the census, and as a result, a lot more federal funds will flow to the blue states instead of the red states, thereby correcting the longstanding disparity where red states receive more federal funding than the taxes they pay in while the blue states pay more federal taxes than the federal government allots back to them.

    Go Arch-con Go Arch-con GO! I’m right behind you all the way! Don’t fill out the census, and tell all your conservative friends, too! We’ve got your back! Really we do! Honest!

  • Hmm… A few things…

    I worked for the Census in 1980, and it wasn’t hyped to the max back then.

    The post cards, cards, actual form and TV and billboard spots are over the top. Waste of money.

    While I’m leaning libertarian, I filled out the form. I get it. However, in this modern age, do we really need a recounting by snail mail and census takers? Doesn’t the government already know, via other means such as IRS, SS, state rolls, etc? This overproduction of the same information funneled through different departments is a waste of taxpayer funds. Which is why I politely declined a Department of Labor monthly census after filling out the form (manually, there was no quick way of doing it) for two years. They can get the same info off our payroll tax statement.

    I was surprised that ACORN didn’t do the Census this year. They obviously bloated the voting pool in 2008.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joanne –

    You lean libertarian? And you might not fill out the census? That’s good! Be sure to tell your conservative friends to follow your example!

  • I agree the census is important. My concern is when it may be used for gerrymandering. That’s why I don’t believe we should give more info other than necessary.

    I also am very annoyed by all the money that is being spent on advertising for it. We don’t have the money!!!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    In the big picture, the money we spend on the census is truly chump change, a pittance indeed when compared to its importance.

  • You know, when you really think about it, the mailings are not that expensive, and the census is important. While most people have internet, not everyone does, which is why it needs to be snail mail and not email.

  • Vijai

    Perhaps I’m missing something here.

    There is a question that begins all the race-related questions:

    Is this person Hispanic or Latino.

    The answers:
    Yes, Hispanic or Latino
    No, Not Hispanic or Latino

    Then it asks you for the race (White, Black, Asian, etc).

    I wonder why such a question about Hispanics/Latinos to begin with. Couldn’t it be simply included in the normal race question?

    On the question of whether I own or rent a home, I couldn’t care less- I doubt anyone else should either.

  • none of their damn business

    Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution only specifies that the people be counted. That’s all that’s Constitutionally mandated, nothing more. Regardless of whether other questions were historically asked is totally irrelevant. Tradition isn’t law and shouldn’t carry the weight of law. How is it any of the government’s business or your business when I go to work in the morning, how many 1-ton capacity vehicles I own, how much money I make, or anything else besides the number of people living in my house? It isn’t your business. The reason the census exists is to apportion Congress according to the population; not to find out any other information whatsoever from the household. And, if you do some research, you’ll find that you’re not required by law to answer those questions either; you’re only required (Title 18, USC I think) to answer how many people live in your household.

    In short: It’s none of their damn business.

  • Funny how none of this whining, complaining, and out-and-out ignorance of the history of census all came into play during any other presidency. Just an observation.

  • EJ

    It did, but not to the extent that it has this year. It has gotten steadily worse each time we have the census. The census workers tell people that they’re required to answer the questions. While that’s true, they’re only required by law to answer certain questions- the number of people living in the houshold. Don’t believe me? Go look it up for yourself.