Becoming A Part of History: Why the Census is Important

A form from the 1900 US Census
Written by Jean Crockett, Museum Archives Aide


If you find yourself asking why you should spend the time completing the 2020 census, remember the information asked impacts and influences the future.  Your responses can help improve your neighborhood, ensure better representation at a federal level, and give your local government a better understanding of how it needs to operate. The records will also give your descendants and researchers a distinct picture of you as a historic figure.

Currently, historians and researchers can access 150 years of census records dating from 1790 through 1940. Each community, from small towns to city wards, reveals the growth of the United States and reflects the country’s shift from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation. The historic census records uncover changes from one cultural group to another, which affects development and revitalization of older areas.

Historians use census records to research individuals or families. By using past census records, researchers can track how a person moved around the country or stayed within the same community.  The 1900 census is used as a benchmark, with more detailed questions asked of each individual in a household. Everyone was asked their month and year of birth, where they were born, and what language they spoke. Women were asked how many children they had and how many children were still living. Immigrants /those who immigrated were asked when they had arrived in the United States and when they were naturalized.

In more recent decennial censuses, the forms have become shorter, and by 2005, the Census Bureau began an annual questionnaire called the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS looks at socioeconomic information regarding communities, releasing estimates every three years for geographic areas with populations over 20,000 and every five years for areas with populations less than 20,000 people.  However, the decennial census, taken every ten years, still determines the number of seats in the House of Representatives for each state and allocates federal funding to local communities. Local governments can also use the census to determine where to build stores, offices, and factories based on population growth and loss.

As historians, we at the Central Territory Museum encourage you to participate in the 2020 census. Our Salvation Army family is made up of so many fascinating individuals, and we want you to share that with generations to come.  After all, how else will people in 2092 understand how unique 2020 has been thus far unless we leave them with great documentation? If you have not completed your census form, follow this link:


About the Census:

The first United States Census commenced in 1790 with the purpose of counting every citizen so that representation could be determined in the House of Representatives. The census was conducted by members of the United States Marshal Service who typically hailed from the area being enumerated.  The framing of the United States Constitution chose population over wealth to be the determining factor for sharing political power.  Apportionment is the process that determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. The census records are kept as confidential records for seventy-two years because the responses are considered personally identifiable information.