Monday, March 22, 2010

352.7 Census: Where's the Interesting Stuff?

I did my duty over the break. I filled out my census form. took me less than 10 minutes for me to fill out the 10 questions...mostly because it is just me these days.

I was asked my name, age, date of birth, race and whether I lived in an owned or rented property and how many people resided with me.

What I miss are all the interesting questions found in previous census records. Being a family historian who has poured over old census records looking for facts about my family members, I was often drawn away from my primary task looking at interesting things I found on the old sheets and interpreting the spellings and handwriting of the day! I loved it...but then I am weird that way.

One of my favorite finds was on a family sheet of mine. For many census years, folks were asked their occupations. That was always very interesting and I would eat up lots of time reading what folks did for a living. Children were often listed as "at home" or "at school." The wives were usually "keeping house" as one would expect. Imagine my delight when I read that my Irish immigrant great-great-grandmother Annie's occupation was "kept tent!" It turns out that in 1880, she and her teamster husband and four daughters (soon to be six girls!) lived in a canvas tent with wood floor near the horse barns at Ft. Concho, Texas. WOW!

I later found out that they were able to move into an abandoned officer's house because Francis, the teamster, was retired from active duty and the fort was losing population as it was beginning the process of being shut down. I have seen a replica of the house...and yes, it was an improvement over the tent, but still was a tight fit for a family of eight!

Another interesting tidbit...Francis' job as a teamster...was to move the soldiers buried in the fort cemetery to the military cemetery in San Antonio...a part of shutting the fort down. No that was not found in the census forms, but there is so much that is.

If you have never looked at an old census form, the 1880 census is available on the internet for free at several locations including
I bet you a dollar you will find some interesting stuff!

I am really sorry that 72 years from now when the 2010 census becomes public record, the information will be so sterile and clinical and even missing the handwriting and ink spots of the day. I can't wait to see the 1940s records (and the gems they may contain) when they become public in 2012!

Here is a video about the 2010 Census and how to fill it out.

Census form
1880 form screen shot from personal collection

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My grandfather's ellis island log had a place to check for "anarchist"

I have been asked to serve on a focus group for our local library in Florence, Nebraska. Do you have any suggestions for me? It is a fairly diverse community.