Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

View All Posts

Dec 30

Census is Taken Every Ten Years

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 8:45 AM by Iredell County Public Library

Starting in March we will all be getting the new census form to fill out for the twenty-third United States Census. The census forms this time will consist of ten short questions and will come with a postage-paid envelope to mail it back in. The census takers only visit those that fail to return their census form. The 2010 census kicked off on January 25, 2010 when Census Bureau Director Robert Groves personally counted World War II veteran Clifton Jackson, a resident of Noorvik, Alaska. I looked back recently at the 1850 census record for one of my ancestors. I found my great great great Grandpa Hugh Reece listed in the census records for Johnson County, Tennessee. I felt a sort of pride in seeing Hugh’s name along with his wife and children’s names all handwritten down beside the names of their neighbors. They had all taken part in the great counting of our country’s population and are now part of the United States of America’s documented history.

The Constitution of the United States (Article I, Section II), directs that the population be counted at least once every ten years and the resulting counts be used to set the number of members from each state in the House of Representatives and also, by extension, the Electoral College. It is important that everyone be counted in the census. The results of the 2010 census will determine the number of seats each state will receive in the U.S. House of Representatives starting with the 2012 election. The population count will also be used to determine how many electoral votes each state will have in the next presidential election. Over $400 billion in federal funds will be allotted to communities based on the census population data. The data gathered in the 2010 census will be used to allot federal and state funding for public health, transportation, education, senior centers, bridges and other public-works projects, along with emergency services and neighborhood improvements.

After a census is taken the original documents are destroyed after their photographic images are transferred to rolls of microfilm and stored in a locked vault at the National Archives. In order to protect the confidentiality of the individuals in the census records the Census Bureau and the National Archives withhold the release of the records listing names of individuals until 72 years after the census was originally taken. The last census available for researchers that actually lists the names in families is the 1930 census. These records were released by the National Archives on April 1, 2002. The 1940 Census records should be released by the National Archives and Records Administration sometime in April of 2012. The information you give now is protected by Federal law and, as James T. Christy, of U.S. Census Bureau says, “No one can get access to census data. It is rock solid secure.” Title 13 of the U.S. Code makes it illegal to disclose or publish the names, addresses, social security numbers, or telephone numbers from the Census data. The information is basically used to produce statistical data.

The United States Census has been conducted every ten years since 1790. Marshals of the various judicial districts took the census from 1790 to 1840. These early censuses only recorded the name of the head of the household and not the wife or children. In 1840 the Census Act was passed establishing a central office which became known as the Census Office. In 1850, the first census was taken that recorded the names of everyone living in a household. In 1903, the Bureau of the Census was authorized as the official census-taking agency of the United States government. The Bureau conducts a full population count once every ten years in years ending with a zero. In between the censuses, the Census Bureau makes population estimates and projections. This data is used by local governments and businesses to forecast future product demand, to determine site locations for expanding new businesses and housing, and in determining the future community needs for nursing homes, day care centers, and hospitals.