The 2020 Census Enumeration–Some Genealogical Thoughts…

The United States Government is preparing for the 2020 Census which  is required by the Constitution. The population is required to be counted every ten years to apportion Congressional representation for each state. Every 10 years beginning in 1790 a count has been made.

The selection of questions being asked changes from year to year. Some questions are simply generic like gender and age. Some questions provide details for specific government programs like military service and level of education. Some questions are ;edgy like the number of bathrooms and marital status.

For 2020, the question of citizenship has gone to the Supreme Court for direction. Officials are afraid if this question has to be answered, the total number of returns will be affected because undocumented immigrants won’t fill out the forms or answer the door-to-door questioners.

According to an article in my Standard Examiner newspaper this morning, “High-tech Tools Help with Upcoming Census,” in 2010, only 59% of enumerations were returned in a mostly black county in Mississippi. Nation-wide only 74% of returns were sent in. The door-to-door corps had to  visit those who did not turn in their census schedules. Never has the whole country returned their first-hand reports!

I am flooded with specific thoughts–I am a genealogist, paid by clients to track their ancestors and sometimes their immediate relatives to prepare genealogies of the families recorded in the census. The United States Census is the primary record source for genealogy! And it has been since the schedules were first released to the public.

Instruction classes have taught generations of genealogists how to use the data included in the census records to build a genealogy. And how to compensate for those who did not get reported. Or, whose entry was supplied by an underage child, an elderly resident, or a neighbor with limited knowledge of the residents.  I took such classes. I still take such classes. And, I teach such classes myself.

I have even written several chapters for three whole research guides on how to use the census records to build complete and correct genealogies for American and British Isles ancestors for Family History Expos:

British Isles Research Guide with 16 instructional videos available through or online delivery, 2015

In-Depth Census Research Guide with 12 instructional videos, 2015

Take Another Look: Federal, State, and Local Census Records, with 12 instructional videos, 2019

These guides can be ordered through: or 

In order to do a better and more definitive job as a genealogist, I have traveled extensively to find copies of census lists and what we call substitute census lists for areas where there is substantial record loss. Every state but Hawaii, I have visited, in person, and researched in their local and state libraries and archives–every state!

My area of specific expertise is the American South–where record loss is chronic. I have driven by myself and sometimes accompanied by other genealogists, through local counties and towns where whole communities of people are not included on the maps which guided us from place to place. The map was blank–no streets, no parks, no special buildings–not one. As we drove along the roads, however, there were streets. And parks. And special buildings. And crossroads with shops and gas stations.

There are local histories, some even written recently, that omit whole towns and whole populations. This common practice in the South was the subject of a special class I had the opportunity to attend in Chicago through the Newberry Library, taught by a young black Librarian from the South. She was used to these omissions and shared her frustration with them.

2020 Census will counter these omissions with technology–
satellite and aerial photos compared with door-to-door visits in local neighborhoods and rural areas to create digital maps and to collect census enumerations. Tribal areas, homeless encampments, and other areas that were routinely undercounted will receive special scrutiny and care to contact every family or single resident.

What a great thing that would be–to have a census that reached 100% completeness. Leaving out controversial questions that supply essential data is not a fair trade off. The genealogist in me wants that essential information–after all, it determines where we search next to build a family tree as we move back in time. A genealogy without place of origin is crippling!

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Genealogy is not a political study; Genealogy requires truth to build a family tree.

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