Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

The Census

(from the Feb. 28, 1990, Lowell Tribune, page 10)

Historically, the U.S. census has asked: "Who and what are Americans?" The census is an enumeration of the people in the country or district. The word is from the Latin and originally applied to the Censors of the Roman Empire. In ancient Greece a census was taken for the purpose of facilitating taxation and to classify citizens. Other countries of that period made enumerations for military and financial purposes.

The population of New France in Canada was first recorded in 1665. Sweden took a more modern count in 1749. The United States was the first country with a large area to provide for a periodic census, beginning in 1790.

France began in 1801, Great Britain the same year, Prussia in 1810, Austria in 1818, Italy in 1861, and Russia in 1897. Census-taking at first was little more than a count of the population, but with increasing industry and world trade, economic questions were also asked.

The United States Census in 1790 listed the number of free white males 16 and over, those under 16, the number of free white females, the number of slaves, and all other free persons except Indians, who were not taxed. Many more questions were added through the years: questions on manufacturing in 1810 and many detailed ones in 1840.

The 1840 census in Lake County was taken by Lewis Warriner and listed only the heads of households, about 275 names, including the following family names of Three Creeks pioneers: Bryant, Childers, Clark, Cleveland, Cutler, Dinwiddie, Dodge, Driscoll, Farley, Flint, Foster, Fuller, Gregg (Gragg), Grissel, Hale, Hathaway, Hunt, Kenney, Kitchel, Hayden, Ketchum, Lafler, Lynch, McCarty, Nichols, Pierce, Salisbury, Sanger, Sargent, Servis, Sigler, Spaulding (Spalding), Sprague, Taylor, Thompson, Torrey, Turner, Wells, Wilkinson and Woodruff. Some pioneer names did not appear on the list because the nomadic families had moved on before the census was taken. Many of the names were misspelled, including that of the Old Timer's pioneer ancestor at St. John. Questions that year pertained to agriculture, commerce, mining and fisheries.

In 1850 the count was taken with respect to individual persons rather than to families, with many other features introduced, marking that year the beginning of statistical record keeping.

Interest in the 1850 census grew due to mounting tension about slavery. It drew attention to differences between the North and the South, how people were living, and how the wealth was distributed. The United States was also taking in an increasing number of immigrants -- notabley the Irish because of the potato famine and the Germans because of political problems on the European continent.

Confederate General John Hunt Morgan might have considered the census figures when he believed that many transplanted southerners in Indiana would take up arms and follow him when he and his Raiders crossed the Ohio River to invade Indiana during the Civil War in 1863. His calculated risk failed.

In checking the names on the census down through the years, researchers find that some persons never got older, as age remained the same on several lists.

In 1880 the quantity of data collected was so great that with the methods available it could not all be compiled and published, but by 1890, with more modern equipment, it was possible to increase the information and to have it compiled within a reasonable time.

Up to and including the year 1890, the census was conducted by a temporary organization, always disbanded when the work was completed. In 1902 a permanent U.S. Census Bureau was established to complete the work of the 1900 group and was able to provide essential information about the people for the use of business, research and government agencies.

By 1940 besides the basic items of personal description, questions were asked on education, migration, employment, and income. One person in twenty was asked the birthplace of his or her parents, mother tongue, veteran status, and for women, the number of children, living or dead.

Separate census counts were taken for housing, agriculture, irrigation and drainage, manufacturing, mineral industries, business and distribution, religious bodies and governmetns. Several reasons caused the count to become more detailed: the United States was undergoing rapid changes, there was the increasing westward settlement, a great interest arose in how the country was changing, and a rise in the number of professional statisticians boosted interest.

According to the Indiana University News Bureau: "The average citizen should be more concerned about the census, because it will affect many decisions. About 39 billion dollars of federal aid will be distributed according to formulas based on the census." The U.S. Census Bureau expects to count about 250 million person in 106 million housing units for this year's census, using 484 field offices staffed by 565 thousand workers throughout the country.

Names on the list are kept secret for 72 years, so the names on the 1990 census will not be released until the year 2062. The State of Indiana was admitted to the Union in 1816, so the first census here was taken in 1830. The first one in Lake County was taken three years after its founding (1840), and has been taken every ten years since. Census lists for the years 1820 through 1910 can be seen at the Lake County Central Library in Merrillville.


Last updated on April 11, 2002.

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