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7. The census questions on race have always been the most contentious part of the census survey since the first census was conducted in 1790. In the 1900 census, the race options were White, Black, Chinese, Japanese and American Indian. By comparison, the race options one hundred years later for the 2000 census were White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Some Other Race (respondents could write in an answer) and Two or More Races.

8. The sixth census in 1840 counted a population of some 17 million people. It took 28 clerks to tabulate the results by hand. The 1890 census was the first census to use a tabulating machine. It took just six weeks to process the results (the previous 1880 census had taken 2 ½ years to process by hand). Most of the 1890 census was lost in a fire in 1921. The root problem of the lost 1890 census records was that government record keeping was both decentralized and disorganized. The government had a poor track record of losing and/or accidentally destroying public records.

9. One positive outcome of the loss of the 1890 census results in 1921 is that the public outcry initiated a nationwide debate about the need to centralize critical government records. This prompted the government to eventually create the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the 1930’s. NARA is known to genealogists as the holder of old census records and the creator of the Soundex system (see What is Soundex and How Does Soundex Work?). Although NARA’s job is to safeguard records, they have not always been successful. In 1973, a fire at a NARA facility in Overland, Missouri resulted in the destruction of 17 million official military personnel records.

10. Census records are stored at the Census Bureau’s processing center in Jeffersonville, Indiana. By law, US census records cannot be released to the public for a period of 72 years after the census has been completed. After 72 years, the records are transferred to NARA, which makes them available to the public. Thus, the 1940 US census will be released to the public on 2 April 2012.

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See Also:

US 1780 Census Found

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