County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Census Matters Now and Later


The only thing better than a year they take the census is the year they release census records from more than 70 years ago for research. As a genealogist and a history lover, the census is near and dear to my heart and my family tree.

I’ve looked at thousands of historical census records and I’m looking forward to the release of the 1950 census in April of 2022. The National Archives has a 72-year rule that records aren’t released to the general public until 72-years after the census is taken. When you participate in the 2020 census your information will not be public until 2092.

There is a funny mention of the census from 1880 in the Clare County Press, “The census takers are busily at their business, asking all sorts of questions. Don’t lie to a census taker, not for a hundred dollars.” Incidentally, the fine for lying to a census taker was $100!

Older census records providing good information relied on the handwriting and meticulousness of the census taker. Of course, if you are solving a genealogical mystery, the handwriting is bad and names questionable.

This year when you receive your invitation to complete the census you can do it online, by phone or by mail. I can only imagine this will please someone researching their family history a hundred years from now. Especially if they don’t have to rely on bad handwriting!

Census takers will still be out there counting the homeless and transient population, on college campuses, senior centers and in communities conducting quality checks to ensure accurate counts.

In the future we won’t be as elusive as our ancestors. Our lives are well documented now compared to a hundred or more years ago. I have hundreds of photos of my childhood, my grandparents had dozens or less and my children have thousands. My cell phone as 4,000 photos alone! But the census is important in other ways besides knowing whether great grandma could read and write. Census data (not your personal data) is used to determine federal and state funding for area projects and programs, setting congressional and state legislative districts, and a host of other uses by businesses, city and township planners, real estate investors, etc.

One of my favorite census records has become a bit of a legend in genealogy circles is that of Catharine Cudney of Wisconsin. In the 1880 census, she is 15 years old and lists her occupation as “Does as She Pleases.”

Participating in the census is also a civic duty akin to serving jury duty. It is mandated by the Constitution. Do as you please as long as it includes being counted in the 2020 census! Your great-great-grandchildren will thank you.


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