I read it in the Orlando Sentinel, on page 10 of the front section of today's paper, part of an article entitled, "Will census show Latino boom?"

And people wonder why I don't trust the mainstream media. Part of me still retains a small hope that professional news organizations—like our local newspaper—have more of a chance of getting the news right than the average Internet source, but they keep taxing my credulity. Here's the latest.

[E]xperts say the typical hurdles for an accurate census have been aggravated by a controversial question proposed by the Trump administration—"Is this person a citizen of the United States?"—that some fear will dissuade non-citizens from participating.

"The biggest barrier is one that the Trump administration has created," [attorney Tom] Wolf said. "This would mark the first time in American history that the census would try to ascertain the citizenship status of the entire country."

The emphasis is mine. Tom Wolf is "an attorney who specializes in the census and redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York." Specializes in the census? I suppose I could give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that perhaps he was wildly misquoted—but I'm skeptical.

From my genealogical work, I knew he was wrong: citizenship questions had been asked before. What I didn't know until I looked it up again was just how wrong he was. Check out the following census years:

1870

  • Is the person a male citizen of the United States of 21 years or upwards?

 1890

  • Is the person naturalized?
  • Has the person taken naturalization papers out?

 1900

  • What year did the person immigrate to the United States?
  • How many years has the person been in the United States?
  • Is the person naturalized?

1910

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien?

1920

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or alien?
  • If naturalized, what was the year of naturalization?

1930

  • Year of immigration into the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien?

1940

  • If foreign born, is the person a citizen?

1950

  • If foreign born, is the person naturalized?

1970

From 1970 on, the census stopped asking all the questions of everyone—only a small percentage of households received the long form with the interesting questions. Speaking as a genealogist, that was a very big mistake.

  • For persons born in a foreign country—Is the person naturalized?
  • When did the person come to the United States to stay?

1980

  • Is this person a naturalized citizen of the United States?
  • When did this person come the United States to stay?

1990

  • Is this person a citizen of the United States?
  • If this person was not born in the United States, when did this person come to the United States to stay?

2000

  • Is this person a citizen of the United States?

2010

In 2010 the short census form had a mere 10 questions, and the long form was replaced by the annual American Community Survey. The ACS asked questions about citizenship.

So, Mr. Wolf is correct if he only considers the censuses taken from 1960 onward. But he ignores eight censuses in which the country did, indeed, "try to ascertain the citizenship status of the entire country." The proposed question is hardly something new.

The U. S. Federal Census has often asked nosy and sometimes peculiar questions, such as

  • Is the person deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic?
  • Can the person read?
  • Was, on the day of the enumerator's visit, the person sick or disabled so as to be unable to attend to ordinary business or duties? If so, what was the sickness or disability?
  • For mothers, how many children has the person had? and How many of those children are living?
  • Is the person's home owned or rented? If it is owned, is the person's home owned free or mortgaged?
  • Is the person a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy?
  • Person's father's mother tongue
  • Is the person an employer, a salary or wage worker, or working on his own account?
  • Does the household own a radio?
  • Number of weeks worked in the year
  • What is the highest grade this person has attended in school?
  • How did this person get to work last week?

There was a time in my life when I was disgusted with the census for asking such personal questions. But now I see them as an invaluable glimpse into the world of my ancestors—and our country's history. I grieve that the names of all household members don't show up until 1850, and that most of the country has been excluded from the interesting questions since 1970.

I don't see how the Sentinel has a leg to stand on with its statement that the census has never before asked the citizenship of all the country's inhabitants. Why I continue to believe so much of what I read boggles my mind.  Maybe for the same reason I agree to all those End User License Agreements.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Edit
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My grandparents had a radio.
It's on the census record.



Posted by Diane Villafane on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 10:16 am
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