Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
By Frank Passic, FR, Calhoun County MI.
The Detroit Regional Census Center (RCC) is now preparing for the opening of local census offices across our region this fall, as operations for the 2010 U.S. Census begin. This is truly an exciting time! We are continuing a long heritage that goes back to the foundations our country and the U.S. Constitution.
Each decennial count has had its own nuances and peculiarities. What was census taking like for an enumerator 100 years ago? The answer is found in the “Instructions to Enumerators,” published in 1910 by the Government Printing Office. This was the 13th Census of the U.S., with Census day being April 15, 1910. Enumerators had two weeks from that date to complete their work. Enumerators were issued their own badge, which they got to keep as a souvenir at the end of their temporary employment. Illustrated here is one of those badges from 100 years ago.
In reading through the 1910 Manual, I found that many of the procedures were similar to those conducted today. The qualities of accuracy, integrity and professionalism are quite evident. The paragraphs are individually numbered in the Manual. I’ve selected several here for our reading enjoyment. See if you can identify with any of these instructions from 100 years ago:
“13. Enumerator’s rights. Your rights as an enumerator are clearly indicted in the census act. you have the right of admission to every dwelling within your district for the purpose of obtaining information required by this office.”
“14. Refusals to answer. In case your authority is disputed, show your official badge, and also your commission, which you should carry with you. But it is of the utmost importance that your manner should, under all circumstances, be courteous and conciliatory. In no instance should you lose your temper or indulge in disputes or threats. Much can be done by tact and persuasions. Many persons will give information after a night’s reflection which they refused to give when first visited.”
“16. Untruthful replies. You have a right not only to an answer, but to a truthful answer. Do not accept any statement which you believe to be false. Where you know that the answer given is incorrect, enter upon the schedule the fact as nearly as you can ascertain it.”
“17. Obligation to secrecy. You are forbidden to communicate to any person any information obtained by you in the discharge of your official duties.”
“19. What constitutes a day’s work. Enumerators paid on the basis of the number of persons or farms enumerated are expected to devote at least eight hours every day, except Sundays, beginning April 15, to the diligent canvassing of their district.”
“23. Other employment not permitted. You will not be allowed to combined with your work as enumerator any other occupation, such as canvassing for directory publishers, soliciting subscriptions to newspapers or magazines, or the sale or advertisement of any article whatsoever.”
“27. Diligence in enumeration necessary. Be prompt and expeditious in doing your work. Do not lose time or loiter by the way. On entering a house state your business in a few words, ask the necessary questions, make the proper entries, and then leave the premises.”
“41. Definite answers. Try to get a definite answer to each inquiry according to the instructions herein given. But if after every effort you cannot obtain the desired information, write “Un” for unknown.”
“42. The census day. All returns on the population schedule should relate to the census day, April 15, 1910. Thus persons dying after April 15 should be enumerated, but persons born after April 15 should not be enumerated.”
“46. Place of abode. As a rule the usual place of abode is the place where a persons regularly sleeps. Note however, that where a man happens to sleep at the time of the enumeration may not be the place where he regularly sleeps.” Hmmmm....
Some specific regulations concerning counting people have changed since 1910. Here are a couple of them:
“57. Students at school or college. If there is a school, college, or other educational institution in your district which has students from outside of your district, you should enumerate only those students who have their homes or regular places of abode in your district.”
“67. Citizens abroad at the time of enumeration. Any citizen of the United States who is a member of a family living in your district, but abroad temporarily at the time of the enumeration, should be enumerated as of your district. It does not matter how long the absence abroad is continued, provided the person intends to return to the United States.”
Finally, there are several paragraphs in the 1910 Manual concerning employment status and occupations. For whatever reason(s), examples were given with women in mind. Here are a few gems:
“153. Women doing housework. In the case of a woman doing housework in her own home, without salary or wages, and having no other employment, the entry in column 18 should be “none.” But a woman working at housework for wages should be recorded in column 18 as housekeeper, servant, cook, or chambermaid, as the case may be.”
“154. Women doing farm work. A woman working regularly at outdoor farm work, even though she works on the home farm for her husband, son, or other relative and does not receive money wages, should be recorded in column 18 as a farm laborer.”
“175. Similarly, a washerwoman or laundress who works out by the day is an employee, but a washerwoman or laundress who takes in washing is either working on “own account,” or it may be, is an employer.”
Census Badge from 1910
Census Enumerators Instruction Manual from 1910
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic