Family History and the Census

One of the great things I’ve been doing, particularly this week, has been working on our family history with my sisters. We discovered some anomalies in the information we have looked at.

My grandmother, Gertrude Yates, was born in 1897. Her father, Edward Yates, died in 1911. Her maternal grandfather, James Archer, died in 1912. In the 1920 Census, we discovered that Gert’s widowed grandmother, Harriet, had living with her formerly widowed daughter, Lillian, Lillian’s four children by Edward Yates, and her new husband, a gentleman named Maurice Holland. It’s this guy who caught my eye.

Now in the 1910 Census, Maurice Holland came from Texas, but in 1920 he came from Mexico, and his first name was Mauricio. This suggests but one thing: he lied in one of these Censuses, probably 1910.

Up until the last half dozen Censuses, the Census taker would record all the information, rather than having individual householders do so. Sometimes, the Census taker did it incorrectly. Listed in 1920:
Harriet Archer (head)
Maurcio Holland (son-in-law)
Lillian Holland (wife)
Gertrude Yates (daughter)
Edward Yates (son)
Earnest Yates (son)
Adina Yates (daughter)

It should have had Lillian as daughter of Harriet, and the children as grandchildren of Harriet. As is stands, it appears that Lillian was Harriet’s wife. I’m fairly sure same-sex marriage was not counted in 1920. Also Earnest should have been Ernest and Adina, Adenia.

From looking at the family Bible, it appears that my mother may have had a sibling, who died in 1929. With no date of birth given, one has to assume that the child died in infancy, maybe at birth. My mother knew nothing of this.

In the 1910 Census, my grandmother Gertrude Yates was listed as Gertrude Archie, a variation on the family surname. What was THAT all about?

Relatives I checked for the 1870 and 1880 Census had the children (Lillian and her siblings) whose births changed 10 years over the decade, as they should, but the adults, James and Harriet Archer, aging only about six years over the period.

My great-great-great-great grandmother’s name was Phylisia Wargner. Or Phyllis Waggoner. Or other variations such as Wagner. She was born on April 3, 1807 and died on July 8, 1865. She married William Edward Bell on March 2, 1832. These are the oldest ancestors I could find so far. From Census records, I can tell that Harriet was born in Virginia, and her parents were as well, but that they didn’t know where their parents were born, which suggests slave trade.

I have been watching this show called Who Do They Think They Are?, a genealogy show on NBC. They do a search for the personal histories of celebrities. So far Emmitt Smith found his slave roots; Matthew Broderick discovered ancestors who served in the Civil War at Gettysburg, dying the following year in Georgia, and as a medic in a bloody World War I battle; and co-executive producer Lisa Kudrow found the place where her grandmother died during the Holocaust, but found alive a cousin who had initially brought the news. I’m finding it interesting but irritating. There’s too much “Coming up next” before the commercials, as though it weren’t interesting enough to stick around for, and too much recapitulation after the ads, as though we all have ADHD. I’ve seen similar shows, on PBS and elsewhere, but this particular program seems to have has rekindled this search for my roots.


I is for Irish Migration

One of the cliches one hears in the United States this week is that “Everyone’s Irish!” People who couldn’t find Ireland on a map of the British Isles will be doing the Wearing of the Green, to the delight or irritation of many.

So how many Americans ARE Irish? According to the 2000 Census, of the 281.4 million people in the country, 30.5 million, or 10.8% self-identify as Irish. In a more recent calculation, 36.3 million U.S. residents claimed “Irish ancestry in 2008. This number was more than eight times the population of Ireland itself (4.4 million). Irish was the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German.”

Most people are familiar with the potato famine of the 1840s which generated much of the emigration from Ireland to the US. But in fact, the trend started earlier than that.

“Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. In the 1840s, they comprised nearly half of all immigrants to this nation. Interestingly, pre-famine immigrants from Ireland were predominately male, while in the famine years and their aftermath, entire families left the country. In later years, the majority of Irish immigrants were women.”

The Irish-Americans suffered some definite hostility. For instance: “In the Questions for Admittance to the American Party (1854), inductees committed to ‘…elect to all offices of Honor, Profit, or Trust, no one but native born citizens of America, of this Country to the exclusion of all Foreigners, and to all Roman Catholics, whether they be of native or Foreign Birth, regardless of all party predilections whatever’.” There were also racial pressures: “…the Irish and Blacks had reason to feel they were treated unfairly in the workforce, and often at one another’s expense.”

Eventually, though the “Irish influence resulted in increased power for the Democratic Party as well as the Catholic Church. William R. Grace became New York City’s first Irish-Catholic mayor in 1880. Four years later, Hugh O’Brien won the same position in Boston.

“Irish-American political clout led to increased opportunities for the Irish-American. Looking out for their own, the political machines made it possible for the Irish to get jobs, to deal with naturalization issues, even to get food or heating fuel in emergencies. The political machines also rewarded their own through political appointments.”

I happen to think that there are actually more Irish in America than have been reported. The mixing of the races has probably made tracking lineage difficult in some cases. A prime example is delineated in the book The Sweeter The Juice about an Irish woman and a mulatto man marrying after the Civil War. Many of the descendants, especially those living as black, have holes in their family trees.

Where are the Irish-American enclaves in the US? According to the ePodunk site, the concentration is in the Northeast, plus in and around the state of Illinois. Interestingly, Albany, NY is NOT on the list; given the partying that goes on after every St. Patrick’s Day parade, such as the one from Saturday past, maybe it’s the faux green wearers who are the most vigorous celebrants.

(A not so subtle reminder for Americans to fill out the Census forms they received this week.)

ABC Wednesday


C is for Census Confusion

I was reading this story a month or two back about this onerous-sounding census. Apparently, there was this couple that had to travel around 100km (c. 60 miles) just to get counted. Worse, she was at least eight months pregnant and they were traveling on foot or on donkey.

Oh, yeah, it was in the Biblical book of Luke, and it begins: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

Conversely, the US Census in 2010 is pretty straightforward, with 10 questions for the householder, and fewer for others in the residence. However, for some reason, there seems to be a lot of conflict and confusion.

Should we count illegal aliens? Well, the 1910 Census didn’t differentiate; it just wanted a count.
15. Year of immigration to the United States.
16. Whether naturalized or alien.
17. Whether able to speak English; or, if not, give language spoken.

Some say the questions are too personal.
The 1860 Census asked of each person: “Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict.”

A complaint about the use of the word Negro on the 2010 form.
Fact is that people of African heritage have been designated so many different ways over the years In 1850, the tern was black, or if they were of mixed race, i.e., mulatto. The race choices in 1890 included black, mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon. In the early part of the 20th century, race was asked for but not specified on the form, only in the instructions. By 1950, the preferred term was Negro; 1970 said “Negro or Black”, and by 2000, one could be Black, African American, or Negro. So I think it is much ado about very little.

Incidentally, those terms in the 1890 Census had some very specific meanings. Mulatto meant someone who was half black and half white. Quadroon referred to someone of one-quarter black ancestry. Octoroon means a person who is one-eighth black. These are not terms generally found acceptable in 21st Century thinking.

But these are point-of-view issues. There also seems to be some confusion about what happens when people live in more than one location during substantial parts of the year, such as people in northern states who winter in South. The Census Bureau will count people who have two residences “where they spend the majority of their time. People should decide where they spend the majority of their time and fill out the census form sent to that address. If a respondent tells a census taker that they consider their northern address to be their home, even if they happened to still be staying at their southern home on Census Day, the census taker will record the residents at their northern address.”

Then there are the deliberate attempts to cause confusion in the Census. The Republican Party is seeking input and money from GOP voters — seemingly under the guise of the U.S. Census Bureau. There is also a census e-mail scam misappropriating the Better Business Bureau’s name. The message, basically, is that one only needed to give the Census taker the number of people at the address. And the BBB is NOT happy about it.

One procedural issue that seems to have come to light especially in New York in recent weeks: The Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated. About 2/3 of the prisoners in the state of New York are from New York City, yet the vast majority of prisons are in mostly rural sections of the state. The argument is that the reapportionment favors those rural districts; what’s more, those prisoners can’t vote, making the imbalance even greater. Still, the Census is mandated to count people “where they are”, and the reallocation of prisoners to various geographies if legislation mandating it comes to pass will likely be a logistical nightmare.

So, I guess this Census stuff isn’t that simple after all.


The Breakfast Blog

My friend Dan really cracked me up, when, in his comment to my NaBloPoMo post, he described my blog as one of the “Breakfast Blogs. That what I call blogs like yours, Roger. ‘For today’s post I’m going to tell you what I had for breakfast this morning! I had exactly what I told you I had for breakfast in yesterday’s post, but today I also had a big glass of orange juice! Let me tell you how that came about!’ etc.”

For the record, I can recall noting my breakfast habits five times in four and a half years, twice in my dedication to cold cereal, especially mixed; one about maple syrup; and a couple times in response to a meme question. OK, and once in answer to this question. That’s about once every nine months.

And it’s fine that he has a more “slow cooking” blog. Frankly, if I wrote as infrequently as he does, I’m afraid I wouldn’t write anything at all. I have so many ideas, or at least pieces of ideas floating around in my head at any given time.
What I will tell you is that I went to a comic book show on Sunday, well described by Fred Hembeck here (November 3). Had a grand old time talking with Fred, his wife Lynn Moss, John Hebert and his wife and mother, Bill Anderson, Joe Staton and especially Rocco Nigro. But what Fred and Rocco and I all said at different points was, “Where’s Alan David Doane?” He plugged the event in his blog and then no one saw him there. Maybe he was incognito in one of those Watchman or Star Wars costumes; one really can’t tell much about a person in a Darth Vader outfit.
I’ve been at a State Data Center Affiliates meeting Wednesday, Thursday and will be today, learning a lot about the 2010 Census, the American Community Survey. and other Census products. I know the Census people really can’t say this, but I can: if you don’t want some intrusive government person coming to your house, fill out the form and return it right away. The decennial form next year is 10 questions, 10 minutes. Expect me to bore you with this regularly until at least mid-April.
I TOLD you the Yankees would beat the…Cardinals I TOLD you the Yankees would win the World Series. Didn’t see an inning of it live; mostly caught the highlights.
I’m really pleased to announce that I received an acceptance letter this week for the proposal I submitted for Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, Inc. 9th annual conference in February. I’ll talk more about it as it gets closer, but I’ve been a big fan of Paul and Mary Liz Stewart’s work on this for years.


C is for Census

As of 01 August 2009, the world had 6,774,705,647 people, give or take. About 307 million of them resided in the United States. That info came from the International Data Base, part of the U.S. Census Bureau, which in turn is housed in the US Department of Commerce. And you thought it only dealt with domestic population statistics.

I was an enumerator for the 1990 US Census. An enumerator is the person who comes to your house in the US when you fail to fill out the form that you have been mailed. (People would save taxpayer dollars by filling and mailing the form themselves.) I did this job from late April to mid-August. Lots of employees dropped out, but since it was my primary source of income – and taking another job was impractical, since I was accepted to go to library school in September – it was an ideal position for me. I even made it into a story that was printed in the Schenectady (NY) Gazette in June of that year, though I cannot, for the life of me, find it right now.

The Census, of course, is mandated in the Constitution: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct,” it says in Article I, section 2.

1930 Census taker, Rev. smith, enumerates a Navajo tribe

The questions asked in the Census naturally have evolved over the years. Many of them can be seen here. My personal “favorite” Census has to be the one from 1890, when they asked questions such as:
4. Whether white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
23. Whether defective in mind, sight, hearing, or speech, or whether crippled, maimed, or deformed, with name of defect.
1890 was a technological breakthrough as well.

Census goes high tech: 1960.

1960 marked the first time people could self-select their race, 1970 featured the introduction of Hispanic ethnicity and 2000 was the first Census where one could pick more than one race.

2000 was also the last year of the long form which asked about income, education, transportation and other topics to one in six households, including mine in 2000. Data users such as local governments tired of waiting 10 years for new information prompted Census to replace the long form by the American Community Survey, which will provide annual statistics; I respond to an article about it here. The ACS has generated some controversy of being too intrusive, in part because Census has not promoted it, figuring it would affect only a small portion of people each month.

I could write about Census forever. I haven’t even touched on the Economic Census, that takes place every five years, or some of the other activities of the Bureau. And, of course, the 2010 Census, with fewer than a dozen questions per householder comes out next year. But that’s enough for now, except to ask the ABC Wednesday people stopping by briefly to describe the censuses in their countries. That’s enough for now.