Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

Making It Count

(from the Mar. 28, 2000, Lowell Tribune, page 8)

"Official census counts are used to distribute government funds to communities and states for highways, schools, health facilities and many other programs you and your neighbors need. Without a complete, accurate census your community may not receive its fair share" -- a quote from a recent letter from the United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

Historically, the U.S. Census has asked: "Who and what are Americans?" The census is an enumeration of the people in a 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 taxes 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 the year 1665, while Sweden took count in 1749. The United States was the first country with a large area to provide for a periodic census, beginning in 1790.

The United States census in 1790 listed the number of free white males over 16, those under 16, free white females, the number of slaves, and all other free persons except Indians, who were not taxed. Questions on manufacturing were added in 1810, and many more detailed ones were added in 1840, when the first census counted Lake County, just three years after its founding.

The Lake County census of 1840, taken by Lewis Warriner, listed only the heads of households, about 275 names, with the total population figured by multiplying by five, the calculated persons in an average family, making a total of 1,375.

Many south county pioneer names were included: Bryant, Childers, Clark, Cleveland, Cutler, Dinwiddie, Dodge, Driscoll, Farley, Flint, Foster, Fuller, Gregg, Griesel, Hale, Hathaway, Hunt, Hayden, Kitchel, Ketchum, Lafler, Lynch, McCarty, Nichols, Pierce, Salisbury, Sanger, Sargent, Servis, Sigler, Spaulding, Sprague, Taylor, Thompson, Torrey, Turner, Wells, Wilkinson, Woodruff, Graves, Marvin. Some of the pioneer families did not appear on that list because they had moved west. Many south county farmers moved because they were discouraged by crop failures.

Questions asked in the 1840 census concerned agriculture, commerce, mining and fisheries. In 1850 the count was taken with respect to individual persons rather than to families, with other features also introduced, marking that year the beginning of more statistical record keeping.

Interest in the 1850 census grew due to mounting tension about slavery. It drew attention to the 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 at that time -- notably the Irish, who were fleeing from the potato famine and Germans because of political problems.

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, but his calculated risk failed.

In checking the names on the list through the years, researchers have found that some persons never seemed to get older, their age remaining the same 10 and 20 years later.

In 1880 the quantity of data collected by the census was so great that it took a very long time to compile and publish, but by 1890, with better equipment, it became possible to increase the information and to have it compiled within a more reasonable time.

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

By 1940, besides basic identification, questions were asked on education, migration, employment and income. One person in 20 was asked the birthplace of their parents, their mother tongue, veteran status; and for women, their number of children, living or dead.

Also, separate census counts were taken for housing, agriculture, irrigation and drainage, manufacturing, mineral industries, business and distribution, religious bodies and governments. Several reasons required the count to become more detailed: the United States was undergoing rapid changes, there was an increase westward movement, a greater interest was shown in the changes, with a rise in the number of professional statisticians.

For the census of 1990, about 500 field offices were staffed by 565,000 workers throughout the country, who counted about 250 million people in 106 million housing units.

For the Town of Lowell, the 1990 census listed 6,430 persons, with an estimated count in 1996 of 7,162 -- 732 more in six years, a 11.4% increase.

For the Town of Cedar Lake, the 1990 census listed 8,885 persons, the estimated count in 1996 was 9,088 -- 203 more in six years, an increase of 2.3%.

In the 1990 census, the City of Crown Point listed 17,728 residents, with an estimated count in 1996 of 19,007 -- 1,279 more, an increase of 7.2%.

Lake County showed 475,594 persons in 1990, the estimated count in 1996 was 479,940, an increase of 4,246 -- .92%.

By law, names on the census lists are kept secret for 72 years, so the 1990 list will be released in the year 2062. Old census lists can be seen at most of the libraries in the county.

All citizens should be greatly concerned about the census, for billions of dollars will be distributed according to formulas based on it -- money for schools, employment services, housing assistance, services for children and elderly, and many other local needs.

"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience, I know of no way of judging the future, but by the past." -- Patrick Henry.


Last updated on April 11, 2002.

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