As a genealogist and family historian, I can tell you what I think of the 2010 U.S. Census form. The old days really were better.
But before I explain that, let me urge every person to fill out the 2010 form fully and promptly — it takes only five or 10 minutes.
Moreover, if you mail that form back, you will save the government — and ultimately, all of us — $56.58 in tax dollars.
That’s the savings for just one form, which costs the Bureau of Commerce 42 cents to have mailed back. If you don’t mail it, “we” will pay $57 to have a census taker come to your home to follow up on the unreturned form.
The 2010 census form seeks so little information, I don’t see how it can be very useful. It asks:
— How many people are living in the household as of April 1.
— Whether any additional people were staying there.
— Whether the house, apartment or mobile home is owned with a mortgage, owned outright, rented or occupied free.
— Your telephone number, in case the Census Bureau doesn’t understand an answer.
— Your name with middle initial.
— Your gender.
— Your age and birth date.
— Whether you are of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.
— Whether you are white, African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or some other race.
— Whether you sometimes live or stay somewhere else.
The last six questions, beginning with name, need to be answered for every person in your household.
The census used to ask what ethnic origin you considered yourself. My husband, for example, is thoroughly Franco-American. There are people whose heritage is Irish or Italian, and people who were born in Hungary or Russia or the Czech Republic. We don’t ask that anymore.
From 1850 to 1930, we asked each person where he or she was born. From 1880 to 1930, we also wanted to know the birthplaces of the person’s father and mother. Not asked today.
In 1930, my grandmother Ione (Bennett) Moore, the head of household with four small children, was asked:
— Whether she owned her home or rented it, and how much the rent was.
— Whether she lived on a farm.
— Her age, and how old she was when she got married.
— Whether she had attended school or college since the previous fall.
— Whether she could read and write.
— Places of birth for her and her parents.
— If she came from another country, what language she spoke then.
— Whether she was a naturalized citizen.
— Her year of immigration, if that applied.
— Her occupation, industry and whether she was employed.
— Whether she was a veteran.
The 1930 Census is the most recent one to be made public, which occurred in 2002.
The government pledges to keep your personal information on the 2010 census private until it is 72 years old. By law, it can’t be released until 2082.
It won’t be nearly as interesting to genealogists and historians as the 1930 census.
Moreover, I think the Census Bureau should want to know now where our residents were born and whether they are U.S. citizens. How long have they lived in their current home, and what is the level of their education? Do they use a computer and get on the Internet? Are the children in the home receiving an education?
These questions probably aren’t politically correct, but they could be useful.
I remember that one year, the census asked whether each household had an indoor bathroom. I think that’s a health issue, and a question the government should ask — and respond to.
I think we should ask people whether they have a chronic medical condition, too, rather than just keep track of what they die from. And ask them whether they’ve seen a doctor in the past year.
We’ve been told that Maine is the “whitest state.” But who are our people and what do they need?
And historically, what will researchers 72 years from now learn from the 2010 census? Not much.
I loved Leota Brown’s Maine history class in eighth grade in Guilford.
In Brownville, they don’t even wait for eighth grade. Author and historian Bill Sawtell brings speakers to third and fourth grades there, such as author and historian Walter MacDougall.
Sawtell has been doing this for years, as well as speaking to the classes himself. Good for you, Bill, and good for Brownville.
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