FIRMLY FOUNDED April/May 2010
By Gene Williams
MAKING SENSE OF THE CENSUS
I finished filling out my 2010 Census Report a few days ago and mailed it to the proper
authorities……..because they tell me that they need the money, and the money they get
was based on the counting of the people in that specific area.
It wasn’t always so. Two thousand and ten years ago, the start of the religion that I was
raised in seemed to all begin with a census The Christian Bible says that Joseph and
Mary had to travel to his hometown, even though they lived many days away from there,
to be counted by the politicians, for their own purposes back then. It is still all about the
money. All that being said, I personally like the idea that we have the census. It gives
me something to gripe about. Most importantly to me, the genealogist, it helps me to
determine where my ancestors were at different points in time, either in this country or
back in Wales, Germany, Ireland, England, or wherever my ancestors were. It even
helped me, at some juncture, figure out what religion they were, what they did for a
living, and who happened to be living down the road from them. I bet ya didn’t know it
had all that on the old census. The main problem with the “olde dayes” is that a lot of
the census takers were not Learned Scholars (like yours truly), but men who could read
and cipher……….and those were few and far between, Even one hundred and fifty years
ago, my great-uncle, Enos Thompson, whose granddaughter lives overlooking the
Mound Cemetery, performed the local Census for Morgan Township, Butler County,
Ohio, for three censuses. The proof of that lies in our local Middletown and West
Chester libraries. All you have to do is look it up on the Microfishe film that they have
available. Why am I telling you about Uncle Enos? Not so much has changed in the last
several hundred years, except that now, we are expected to do part of the work, whereas,
back in those days, the following scenario went down……….
Uncle Enos would ride up to the local farmer, say “Howdy, Clem, ya been doing all
right?”Clem would answer back in a neighborly fashion, “Right well, Enos. You been
doing ok? Enos would answer “Yep, I’m here to take count of all of ya that are living
here for the government. It’s time for that census again.” Clem would then proceed to
tell Enos about any who lived with him in this manner….”There’s me and the Missus, did
ya know that Callie and me been together for 32 years and now there are eleven youngins
to help with the farming? We added lil Jedadiah to the fold right after Christmas. Plus,
Callies’ sister, Hezzie, moved in with us after their Mom died of the consumption last
fall.” Enos would write down Clem, Callie, Jedadiah, and Hezzie, then proceeded to ask
Clem, “What do ya call the rest of your brood? “ Clem answered, “Wal, there’s
Jeremiah, the oldest, then Jessica, Annabel, Mabel, Johanna and John, the twins, Zeke,
Zachariah, Samual, and little David, who was born a year afore Jedadiah.” Uncle Enos
would faithfully put down the names of all on his tablet with the big pencil that he had
been given for the task. It was easier to use than that dern quill pen that kept drying up.
As Uncle Enos wrote, he would ask Clem how to spell each name. If he was lucky,
Callie was standing by and told him it was just like they spelled it in their family Bible.
If he was not so lucky, the following scenario would develop. Clem would say, “I don’t
rightly know. You put down how you spell it, cause Callie won’t be home from birthing
Mrs Jennings baby til sometime the next few days.” Uncle Enos would then write down
on his ledger, for the Clem Smith family, because Clem could neither read nor write…..
Clem, Callie, Hezzie (whose actual name was Hezakiah), Jeremiah, Jesicca, Annie, Mable, Joanna,
John, Zeke (whose real name was Ezekial), Zackaria, Samuel, David, and Jedadiah.
Smithe. The next Census, ten years later, Uncle Enos might write Smith, instead of
Smithe, or a different Census taker might write Smyth or Smythe. They did the best they
knew how, but understand the times. Have you ever figured out Hezzie’s last name?
Maybe the next Census (ten years later) might have it, but they didn’t use the last names
of any but the adult white males for most of the record-keeping process….so, if there
happened to be a maid/helper (almost always unpaid, working for her keep), you were
told her name was Elsbeth, but nothing else was said (her name was Elizabeth Harding).
Hopefully this little tale will help you understand who, what, why , when, where, and
how people so easily got things “not quite right”, but close enough for getting er done.