Great Moments in the Census

Tomorrow, April 1st, is the day every 10 years where we are counted. The US Constitution (Article 1 Section2) mandates that an “Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” The first census was completed in 1790 and we’ve done it every 10 years since.

This year we all received a form in the mail that we fill out and mail back, but it wasn’t always like that. It used to be that the Census Department hired people to go door to door and fill out a form. The questions have changed and some of the questions have led to funny answers. In my family the French spelling of last names drove some of the census workers crazy and we had some great misspellings. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Mailloux and is pronounced “My You.” In different places it was spelled “Mayhew” and (my favorite) “Mayo.”

But the funniest notation I found was in the 1920 Census for Gardner, Massachusetts, Supervisor’s District 3, Enumeration District 73, Sheets 6B and 7A. Here is where the census worker (Lucie Laurence) came to the French Catholic Church, Holy Rosary. When Lucie got to the rectory where the priests live, she listed the pastor as head of the household. That makes sense. But the other priests were listed as “servants.” Then Lucie went to the convent. Again, the mother superior was listed as head of the household, but the other nuns were listed as inmates. Clearly she wasn’t Catholic.

You can look it up yourself. Census records are made public after 73 years. The form you filled out this year will be public record in 2083.

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