A few years ago, Ancestry.com offered free access to its site over Memorial Day weekend. For those 48 hours, I don’t think there was any point when both Abbie and I were asleep – one of us was always at the computer, exploring some branch of our family tree. We learned some amazing things, not the least of which was that she has an ancestor who fought against one of my ancestors (in the same battles even) in the Civil War.
But the single best part of the eye strain and sleepless nights from that weekend came a few months later when I went home to New Orleans. I had hit a dead end with my paternal grandmother’s family at her parents – both were born in Southern Louisiana and there were no records of their birth and nothing in the census. My paternal grandfather was quite a different story; when we showed him the printout of the actual 1920 census form that listed his own name tears welled up in his eyes. We spent hours talking about our family history and even figured out that in the 1910 census his grandfather lied or the census taker had an error, listing a second cousin as a child. It was a fantastic day.
The census is an amazing source of data that decides who has how much of a voice in federal government and how much money various entities will receive, plus what we learn through the census can help individuals, governments, and organizations make better decisions. But, more than anything, I know how vital the census is to folks who want to understand their history.
I love the census.