Count Me!

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – I’m signed up for regular updates from the U S Census Bureau because I love anything that gives me facts and figures to analyze. And as a dedicated student of family history, I rely heavily on Census records to “follow footsteps through time.” I was delighted a few years back when the Census was released that first had MY name on it! I was verified. There is something very satisfying about being counted. And 2020 is time to do it again.

As you may know, every 10 years the United States counts its population. It’s a requirement, written into the Constitution. And the first count dates back to our first president, when U S Marshals conducted the census on horseback. It’s happened once a decade since then, as the country has continued to grow, and changes in our laws, our cultural norms and our attitudes have changed the focus of information gathered, and questions asked, in an effort to make sure everyone is counted.


The very first U S Census was conducted a year after George Washington took office. Every household in the original 13 states was visited, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, Vermont, and the Southwest Territory. The inquiries called for the name of the head of household, and the number of persons living in the household, as described:

  • Free white male of 16 years and up (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential)
  • Free white males under 16
  • Free white females
  • Slaves

The count according to that first census as of August 2, 1790 was 3,929,214.


It was 1850 when the inquiries expanded to include every free person’s name, not just the head of household. Relationships were not listed, just names and ages, but additional “social statistics” included information on taxes, schools, crime, wages, and value of the estate.

Zachary Taylor was President of the United States on Census Day June 1, 1850. The U S had grown to 30 states by then, with a population count of 23,191,876.


Census Day was June 1 in 1870 and Ulysses S Grant was President of our 37 United States.

After the Civil War, the decennial census questionnaires were redesigned to end the slave questionnaire. The schedules for the 1870 census were: General Population, Mortality, Agriculture, Products of Industry, and Social Statistics.

This was the first year a rudimentary tallying machine helped with the count, which added up to 38,558,371.


Census Day was June 1 in 1880 and Rutherford B. Hayes was President of our 38 United States.

This census is a genealogists dream, because for the first time, relationships to “head of household” are listed: wife, son, daughter, and such things as lodger, or servant. Information about Alaska was included in this census, as well as all untaxed Indians within the jurisdiction of the United States.

The count in 1880 was 50,189,209.


Census Day was January 1 in 1920 (more people would be at home in January, was the theory, than during the busy summertime) and Woodrow Wilson was President of our 48 states.

The format no longer asked about service in the Union or Confederate army or navy and there was no separate schedule for Indians in 1920. The instructions to enumerators did not require that individuals spell out their names. Enumerators wrote down the information given to them; they were not authorized to request proof of age, and the determination of race was based on the enumerator’s impressions.

Can you guess what our population count was a hundred years ago? 106,021,537!


What will our 24th U S Census reveal?

The 2020 Census counts every person living in the United States and five U S territories, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U S Virgin Islands. Each home received an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire—online, by phone, or by mail—between March 12-20. No horseback! House calls only as necessary or requested.

Why is it so important to respond?

The census provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers, and many others use to provide daily services, products, and support for you and your community. Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other resources based on census data. The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U S House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

The Census Bureau will never ask for your:

  • Social Security number.
  • Money or donations.
  • Anything on behalf of a political party.
  • Bank or credit card account numbers.

Additionally, there is no citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

If you haven’t responded yet, you can do so online, go here.

And for a little fun, test your knowledge of census history with this quiz. I did, and (brag, brag) I answered every question correctly. Hint: read the third paragraph of this post and you’ll ace the first question.