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2020 US Census, post census thoughts #general


jeremy frankel
 

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the 2020 US Census off the front-page news. Obviously people have more important things on their mind. Looking at the California figures, some 47% of households have already responded online, making it the #1 state for online response. Admittedly I didn't fill it out on 1st April (but did it the next day) and got a confirmation number. Hence it was very interesting to receive in the mail (alas unstamped, undated) last week a pristine paper copy. This will augment my digital blank and filled-out copy.

As many of us have now seen, a census it may be, but it has about the least amount of genealogical information since, well, 1850. Why is that? Here's my take; as has already been reported in the BBC News about next year's UK 2021 Census, so many government agencies already have the goods on us; asking us to repeat what they know would be a waste of time. However, to amend the Constitution would be a massive undertaking and there would probably be a huge 'push-back' from the citizens of America. Hence, it's far better, every decade to have a meaningless census than amend the Constitution.

Thoughts?

Jeremy Frankel
formerly: Edgware, Middlesex, England
now: Sacramento, California, USA


Bob Silverstein
 

I too was disappointed in the census because it asked so few questions.  Yes, the genealogical value is near zero although it will be more readable and, hopefully, have fewer spelling errors.  The value still is that it captures where people were living on a certain day.  The information that government has already was collected at different times.

I do not think future genealogists will be waiting on baited breath for the results of this census come 2092.


Stephen Weinstein
 

The purpose of the census was never to gather information to be used by future genealogists.  That was just an accidental benefit.

The original purpose of the census was to determine the free population of each state, excluding slaves and Native American Indians, and the slave population, in order to calculate the sum of "the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons" for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and a hypothetical direct tax that the states would have paid to the federal government.

The purpose of the census has always been to gather statistical information, not to gather personally identifiable information.  Originally, they recorded the name of only the head of the household (usually the husband) and the number of slaves, children, wives, etc., but not their names.

The information useful to genealogists was added for a variety of reasons, but genealogy was never one of them.  The lack of questions that would be useful for purposes other than those for which the census is conducted in no way relates to whether the census is meaningless or still fulfills the government's purpose in conducting it -- even if not the unintended purposes for which genealogists use it.
<StephenWeinstein@...>


Lin Mor
 

Glad people pointed out that the information from previous censuses do contain genealogical data in various amounts, an unintentional but welcome side effect for genealogists. Also, the main purpose was to determine representation in the House of Representatives  A couple of thoughts:

1. The census form did ask from where your family came from. I noted Eastern Europe for myself and Western and Southern Europe for my husband. That information, gathered from all people in our country, will show the where present residents immigrated from. This is not specific genealogical information, of course, but it will be useful in other fields. 

2. In the United States the record is permanent. My cousin in Canada, daughter of Holocaust survivors, had an option on their last census, 2011, to "be forgotten" or some similar wording. Not sure what that means in terms of storing the information gathered. I believe she was concerned that the information identified her and her family as Jewish and past experiences made it important that such a distinction not be on the record. 


Joel Weintraub
 
Edited

The 1940 US census introduced sampling on the census schedule and subsequent censuses expanded the number of questions that only asked a small number of people. As people can see, the 2020 federal census asks only a few questions of everyone. Instead every year the census bureau sends out their “American Community Survey” with multiple socioeconomic questions to a small percentage of the population on a rotating basis. It would be interesting to know if those surveys are being saved

Joel Weintraub ,   Dana Point California


JoAnne Goldberg
 

For me, it's been instructive to see occupations and education on old US
censuses -- data missing from all recent censuses. Most useful for me
has been the 1900 question that asked women how many children they had
had, and how many were still living

That said, I doubt future genealogists will have any trouble
reconstructing our lives. Given the amount of data collected on most of
us, supplemented by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, our descendants
will have a record of what we did pretty much every day!
--
JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California; GEDmatch M131535
BLOCH, SEGAL, FRIDMAN, KAMINSKY, PLOTNIK/KIN -- LIthuania
GOLDSCHMIDT, HAMMERSCHLAG,HEILBRUNN, REIS(S), EDELMUTH, ROTHSCHILD, SPEI(Y)ER -- Hesse, Germany
COHEN, KAMP, HARFF, FLECK, FRÖHLICH, HAUSMANN,  DANIEL  -- Rhineland, Germany

 


Sarah L Meyer
 

I agree that the genealogical value of the census, was not the purpose.  The purpose is and was to determine the population size so as to properly distribute the number of representatives to the US House of Representatives.   The census has many other uses, that we can't see because we only work with old ones.  It is the statistical information that is used now.  However, since we DO use it, and it will have some value for future generations - if only to locate us 72 years from now, it would be helpful to have additional questions asked.  My daughter said that she has done the communities survey in the past.  I have never done one. I wish that it had at least asked occupation - that would be useful today as well.  It is possible that some people simply have not had the time to respond, if they work at an essential job.  That is why occupation would be helpful.

Sarah L Meyer,  Georgetown TX   <sarahlmeyer@...>    https://www.sarahsgenies.com


Mark Jacobson
 

Your statement about the amount of information in the 2020 US census is not accurate. It is less than any of the publicly available census records since 1850 but that only spans to 1940. The US census from 1960 to 2000 were very short forms, most with less than 10 questions, for the majority of the population and a small percentage sampling of the population received longer forms with specifically targeted questions. Whether these longer forms even survive is unknown. For example, in 1960, the first year the census was mailed to the population, 25% received a long form with more than 20 questions focused on housing and employment. For the rest of the population, 75% of the US, "The census "short form" collected only five questions: relationship to head of household, age, sex, race, and marital status."
I think that we will not find any US census after 1950 of any real genealogical value in the future (unless the long form survives and our family happened to be included and answer the questions).

Mark Jacobson
Past President, JGSPBCI
Gesher Galicia Board member
JRI-Poland Town Leader Boryslaw and Drohobycz
Boca Raton, FL

DOGULOV/DOVGALEVSKY - Tripolye/Vasilkov/Kiev Ukraine;
COHEN/KANA/KAHAN - Tripolye, Ukraine;
JACOBSON - Polotsk/Lepel, Belarus; KOBLENTZ - Polotsk, Belarus;
KAMERMAN/KAMMERMANN, WEGNER - Drohobycz, Galicia;
KOPPEL - Stebnik/Drohobycz, Galicia;
JACOBI - Stratyn/Rohatyn, Galicia; ROTHLEIN - Stratyn/Rohatyn, Galicia;
TUCHFELD - Rzeszow/Stryj/Lvov, Galicia; GOLDSTEIN - Ranizow, Galicia


On Saturday, April 18, 2020, 02:48:31 PM EDT, jeremy frankel <jfrankel@...> wrote:


The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the 2020 US Census off the front-page news. Obviously people have more important things on their mind. Looking at the California figures, some 47% of households have already responded online, making it the #1 state for online response. Admittedly I didn't fill it out on 1st April (but did it the next day) and got a confirmation number. Hence it was very interesting to receive in the mail (alas unstamped, undated) last week a pristine paper copy. This will augment my digital blank and filled-out copy.

As many of us have now seen, a census it may be, but it has about the least amount of genealogical information since, well, 1850. Why is that? Here's my take; as has already been reported in the BBC News about next year's UK 2021 Census, so many government agencies already have the goods on us; asking us to repeat what they know would be a waste of time. However, to amend the Constitution would be a massive undertaking and there would probably be a huge 'push-back' from the citizens of America. Hence, it's far better, every decade to have a meaningless census than amend the Constitution.

Thoughts?

Jeremy Frankel
formerly: Edgware, Middlesex, England
now: Sacramento, California, USA


Lee Jaffe
 

A couple points about the census not already discussed.  

One of my first encounters with census data was hearing about a research project at U of Penn where they were mapping ethnicity/country of origin and occupation over several decades around the turn of the century to look at social and economic mobility.  This was in the mid-1970s when computers were still rare and the size of a room.  All the coding had to be done by hand and rendering the output in map form was a challenge the research team hadn't worked out.  I learned about this at a party of grad students when I happened to mention that my grandfather had told me he'd worked as a cigar maker and my classmate's husband told me that was a very common job for Jews in Philadelphia at that time. He proceeded to describe the research project and other early findings about the city's population they were gleaning from the census polls.   

I have wondered about the difference in data collected from the earlier handwritten, face-to-face enumerations to the current polls collected by mail or online.  The later ones will be easier to read -- less confusion about handwriting -- but I've always found something special when reading the handwritten entries. (Of course, there are the unfortunate mistakes, as well. My great grandmother Dora being transcribed Iona, for instance.)  In each case, I find myself wondering which family member answered the door and whether the variations in spelling and dates was due to their familiarity with English or the thickness of their accents.  In one case I discovered that the census taker was a relative. In those entries, where county of birth was asked, she entered Grodno, Russia, and Grodno was crossed out.  Ancestry's transcription only recorded Russia, but seeing the original entry is so much more revealing. One wonders how much will be lost to the Procrustean bed of automation.

Finally, as described by others, the Census has often asked a lot of questions that were unnecessary for its Constitutional mandate.  A simple enumeration of those living in a household  would suffice.   To this, I point out that the Census Bureau is under the Dept. of Commerce. But like others,  I appreciate that other data was reported. The question about number of children born/still living asked in 1900 and 1910, has helped solve more than one point of confusion about my great-grandparents and the next generation.  In the 1940 Census, they asked where you were living in 1935. My great uncle answered Norway: he'd actually been working for a Soviet newspaper in Moscow then, but knew better than tell a US official that.  But even the lie helps confirm the family legend about his exploits.

However, during the debate about adding citizenship questions to the 2020 Census, I came across an excellent article showing how those questions in the past polls were explicitly fueled by anti-immigrant movements.  The questions were put there as part of often-successful campaigns to limit further immigration. (It was irrefutably proved to be directed at voter suppression -- immigrants voting overwhelmingly Democrat -- in this Census.)  As genealogists, we may lament the sparser record collected now, but as children of those who were lucky enough to make it to safer shores (wherever you are) before reactionary forces slammed the door, I hope we can appreciate the context for the shorter questionnaire.

Lee Jaffe
JOROFF/SCHWARTZ/KOSHKIN