If you have ever looked for family records you know how important census information can be to someone who is “into” genealogy. A wealth of information can be found in these records; however, one has to understand that the census is confidential, and is not released for seventy-two years after it is taken.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the decennial census is the once-a-decade population and housing count of all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Island Areas. It is very important that everyone complete the census because the results determine the number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census records are also used to draw congressional and state legislative districts, and Federal agencies use the results to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds yearly. It is imperative that each Rhea County home, family or person fill out the census this year in order for Rhea County to get the right share of Federal monies in order to make this area a better place in which to live. A few more ways in which census data are used include attracting new businesses to state and local areas, distributing state funds, locating factory sites and distribution centers, planning for faith-based organizations, planning for school projects, planning for hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and the location of other health services, researching historical subject areas and forecasting future transportation needs for all segments of the population. The U.S. Census Bureau also tells us that under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about individuals, households or businesses, even to law enforcement agencies. And to support historical research, Title 44 of the U.S. Code allows the National Archives and Records Administration to release census records only after seventy-two years.

The first decennial census was directed by Thomas Jefferson in 1790, and taken by Federal marshals. After that first one, a census has been taken every ten years afterward as directed by the U.S. Constitution. Early census records had very little information as compared to today’s census. In 1890 the population of the United States was 3,929,214 according to the census. The United States 2020 population is estimated at 331,002,651 people at midyear according to UN data. According to the 1790 census, information asked for included name of head of family, free white males aged sixteen and upward, free white males aged sixteen and under, all other free persons and slaves. If you notice for that first census females were not counted! Ladies how does that make you feel? In the 1800 census females were counted. In 1810 and 1820 the census was basically the same as the one in 1800. The 1830 census contained information relating to members of a given population by listing deaf and dumb, blind, and foreigners not naturalized, slaves and colored persons. Information from the 1840 record included employment of household members, military pensioners, those in schools and ones who could not read or write. In 1850 this census was the first to name each person whose usual living place was with this family on June 1, 1850. It also was the first record to name all persons in the household. In 1860 everything was the same as 1850 except that the Post Office within the county is given at the top of the page. Then in 1870 some of the information asked for included the following: age as of last birthday of each person; sex; color; profession; value of real estate owned; place of birth; mother and father of foreign birth; marriage month if married within the year; school attendance within the year; whether could read or write; whether deaf, dumb, blind, insane or idiotic. 1880 was the first census to state the relationship of each individual to the head of the family. This census also asked about marital status, unemployment and health.

Remember to fill out your census record when you get it in the mail. It can also be done on line and is safe to do. According to the Census Bureau, everyone counts, it is in the Constitution, it’s about fair representation, it’s about $675 billion, it’s about redistricting, doing this is your civic duty and your privacy is protected. The census will help us to build a future not only for us in Rhea County, but for those who come after we are gone. Just remember to study the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.

Pat Guffey can be reached at pat459@charter.net