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Genealogists worldwide salivated for months  in anticipation of the release of the 1940 US Federal Census Myself included. I’m not quite old enough to see myself in the census but I knew I would see my mother, father and my brother. Also a few grandparents would be listed and I would finally find out who they were living with in their old age as well as where. I kind of think there’s a little gypsy in some of my ancestors. They just couldn’t stay put for too long. And they kept bouncing back and forth from Virginia to Pennsylvania and back again if they didn’t have any other place to explore at the moment. I like that about them.

Of course the states I was looking for were not among the first few to be indexed so I still had a little wait beyond April 1, 2012. And wait I did, still salivating, wish and hoping until finally I could get my hands on that long awaiting electronic hoard of knowledge.

The 1940 Census, being the first that has been released electronically makes me  think of all the census gone before that were amassed on hundreds of thousands of rolls of microfilm. What a difference a decade makes.

First begun in 1790, the US Federal Census has evolved into a gold mine, and I do mean G-O-L-D -M-I-N-Eof data and information without which genealogy research would still be in the dark ages.

Census

1790 was just a list of the Heads of Households with tick marks for the sex and age group of all free persons in the house and the same for slaves. Following the tick marks you could figure if he had a wife and about how old the children were. With a little wishful thinking you could figure out if your ancestor was one of those tick marks. In 1840 they asked about Revolutionary War pensioners so that was helpful to find your war hero and in 1850 they finally asked for the names of all the persons in the household, as well as occupations, real estate values, etc.

In 1860 the first Slave Census was taken as well as the regular one. Unfortunately, a lot of slaves were not listed by name, only sex, age and some general description. 1890, the one census that so many of us want so badly, burned in a fire and was almost completely lost. Kind of like the Southern court records after the Civil War. There are some fragmental records but of course, none that I want.

Ancestry.com, in addition to all the US Federal Census has a collection of UK and Canadian Census. The United States was the first country to make sure that all their citizens were accounted for so they would receive the state and federal representation they were entitled to. Individual States (not all) took citizen census as well and I have found a few at FamilySearch.com

I remember when they took the census in 2010. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was one who received the long form census. At the time I thought it was a pain to fill out pages and pages of stuff.   But then I thought how convenient it was. It came in the mail, I could sit in the comfort of my air conditioned home, put it down whenever I wanted and come back to when I had time.

Our ancestors were treated differently. Someone came to the door or up the drive to the farm house, usually on horseback or on foot. Interrupting their day, they took up their time, asked a bunch of personal questions and then went away never to be seen or heard from again. If you remembered something later you should have reported it was too late. But they did it because they thought it was important. Being counted was important to them and it’s important to me. And I am so grateful to them all.

So when the next census comes along and you get that all important form in the mail, take the time to fill it out as accurately as you can and send it back. Stand up and be counted.  Some people didn’t even send the census form back in 2010 and their descendants are going to be real disappointed in them.

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