Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 26, 2022

Making sense of the census

Husband Art and I have been "schlogging" through the 2,054 names we had previously recorded in one of our genealogy programs. Individuals were entered with birth, marriage, death and burial dates, related places, children's and parents' information and, if known, a variety of other data. The program allows the information to be searched and creates family group sheets, lineage charts and more.

But by far its most important function is "remembering" the connections between individuals and the related data. With that many people - and we have more than 6,000 on another computer - keeping it properly sorted without losing any, far surpasses what the human mind can handle. Our specific goal was to "merge" data from the various computers without deleting or duplicating items.

Finding missing facts is the usual work of any family historian, but contradictions call for a resolution. A typical example involved the 1870 U.S. census. We had a listing for a "Rachel Freeland, female, age 8, born in Pennsylvania." She was with parents Susanna and John Freeland and siblings. But she left no other trace. Had she died without a grave record? Maybe she had married and so had a different surname.

Her "occupation" was "works on farm." Hmm? Back then, boys typically worked on the farm while girls worked inside the home.

The family seemed to be missing from 1880 census. After repeated failures to resolve the matter, it seemed it was time to move on.

Later, Art came across an online book of burials from the Pennington Church cemetery in Atglen, Pennsylvania. Since Art recalled my great-great uncle Sam Freeland had a book about the church's centennial, perhaps some of my Freelands were buried there.

Upon checking, Art discovered burials for Susan and John and their child Reynolds Freeland. Reynolds' birth year was the same as Rachel's birth in the 1870 census. Fraternal twins? Maybe, but not likely.

Reynold's death certificate listed his parents as Susan and John, so he was their child. Reynolds appeared in the 1880 census living with his mother and brother Howard. Howard also appeared with the family in the 1870 census, so it was the same family.

So (A), why hadn't the 1880 census listing been found earlier?; (B), what had happened to Rachel?; (C), why didn't John appear in the 1880 census with the family? "A" involved bad handwriting by the enumerator, resulting in the mother's name being listed in the computer index files as "Lucia" rather than Susan. "C" was resolved when it was discovered John had been working away from home at that time.

But the answer to "B" can only be guessed. Enumerators visited a home and obtained the names of its residents from the family head. The 1870 census enumerator for that area may have been told Reynolds, but "heard" the more common name Rachel and assumed "Rachel" was a girl.

So, census records are not infallible.

The United States' first census was in 1790, and a new one has been completed every 10 years since. Some states, counties and cities also did their own. The U. S. Census is required by the Constitution to apportion taxes and seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 1790 census asked the names of heads of households and included others only by age and gender group. A slave was considered three-fifths of a person. The enumerators provided their own paper, hand-wrote the headings, and bound them. The official population was 3,929,214 - about one percent of today's population - and the census cost $44,377 - $1.4 million in today's currency. In comparison, the 2020 census cost approximately $14.2 billion.

The censuses from 1790 through 2020 provide "historical snapshots" of the country that are invaluable to demographers, economists, politicians and even struggling family historians. They are not released to the public until 72 years after completion to protect the privacy of living individuals.

The 1950 census became available this past April and I thought it would be fun to find Art's and my families. Art and my brother Dave were born in the 1940s and would be listed. Sister Gaila and I were born after 1950 and so we are absent.

As expected, I didn't learn much. But it was fun to see my dad Edgar, 30, mom Edla, 26, and Dave, 2, as a farm family living on Section 34 of Summit Township, Marion County, Kansas. Dad, the farm owner, had worked 60 hours the previous week. Dave's name was actually at the top of the following page, along with my grandparents, Robert, 65, and Ethel, 64, who lived on Section 32. Grandpa had also worked 60 hours the previous week. Many other names - Larsen, Nelson, Stucky, Vestring, Ammeter - brought back memories of neighbors and friends.

Art's family on Harris Street in Appleton, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, listed his father, Thomas, 43, who had also worked 60 hours the previous week, as the mail messenger for the post office. Art's mother Donna, 40, and sons Thomas, 17, and Art, 5, were listed below him. Just as I had, Art glanced down the list of neighbors - Holcomb, Bruch, Ackman, Oswalt - and recalled funny incidents about each.

While interesting, the census was for us also an unlikely source of mirth a few years back. Alex, a fellow who worked for Art in 2000, was from Russia. One day, he arrived at work quite nervous. It seems that "the government" had left a note on his door, saying they had missed him and would be back. Art laughed and explained it was from the census taker. He assured Alex he could speak to them and nothing bad would come of it.

The 1960 census will be released in 2032. Providing I live that long, like the one from 1950, I doubt I'll learn much from it. But I still think it would be fun to see my name on it - sort of a permanent record that I existed.

No two census years used the same format. Top-to-bottom: My mother and father in the 1950 U. S. census; my brother Dave was on the following page; 1870 U.S. census showing Susanna and John with a daughter Rachel. Note Howard as the youngest; 1880 U.S. census. Family 33 is Susanna/Susan Freeland as the mother. While the first letter of her given name was mistaken as an "L," when compared to the first name of the boarder in the home above which is clearly "Sarah," it becomes obvious that mother Freeland's first name begins with an "S." Note the son Howard and Rachel is now Reynolds.

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