Feature Story – A Census Enumerator

The U.S. Constitution mandates a census of the population every 10 years (Title 13 of the U.S. Code). As such, the goal of the 2020 Census was to count everyone who lived in the U.S. on April 1, 2020.  Households were requested to respond to the census online, by phone or by mail. The data is critical to the future of communities, and used to distribute $1.5 trillion a year in federal funds for health care, housing programs, lunch programs, disaster recovery initiatives, roads, education, etc.  Additionally, the census data is used to determine congressional district representation (apportionment) for the next 10 years.  While several million questionnaires are returned by mail, several million are not.  Therefore, the U.S. Census Bureau (“Bureau”) attempts to account for every household address that has not responded to the questionnaire.

2020 RESPONSE RATE
According to the Bureau, as of October 15th, over 99.9% of addresses nationwide were accounted for in the 2020 census. 66.9% responded online, by phone, or mail.  33% of the addresses were accounted for through the Nonresponse Follow-up operation (census enumerators, proxy respondents and administrative records). 

THE INTERVIEW

2020 Census Enumerator Jim Wolak

I recently met Jim Wolak who, first became a census enumerator for a 1985 Arizona special census.  The experience must have been a good one, because he took on the role as an enumerator again for the 2020 Census, assigned to visit addresses in Eugene, Springfield and Florence.  I asked Jim to share his experience for our SGS blog.

In August, Jim completed training in Eugene, with an additional 12 of hours online.  Unlike his previous census work in Arizona when the paper form questionnaire was used, he was issued an IPhone this time around. Utilizing the device, workday assignments were downloaded to him, census form questions displayed on the phone, and household responses were entered directly into the IPhone. For each interview, upon completion of the last question, the data is uploaded automatically to the Bureau.  Jim stated residents are asked the same questions that appear on the census form sent to all households. He added that the enumerator only collects data for the assigned address. Therefore, his initial question to whoever answers the door is to confirm the address is a match to his daily assignment.  If the address is not a match, or if the address ”appears vacant” he enters a designated code into the IPhone and does not pursue the interview. If there is no answer, a form is left with an 800 number for the resident to reply.  The address is then coded into his phone, and returns to the ‘pool’ of non-response addresses. Jim stated he does not revisit an address unless it again appears on his work assignment.

I inquired as to who is included in the count, and he explained everyone in a household is counted who lived at that address on April 1, 2020 – family, friends, and anyone who rents space in the home.  According to Jim, the length of stay of a ‘guest’ is irrelevant – the criteria is simply, if they were present on April 1.

CONFIDENTIALITY
Another role of the enumerator is to explain to the person being interviewed that the response information is kept confidential. The Census Bureau is bound by federal law to protect the information, and use the data only for statistical purposes.  In addition to protecting the data, the answers cannot be used against the respondent by any government agency or court. (Title 13, U.S. Code).

PROXY
Jim explained a proxy is sought when the enumerator is unable to obtain a response directly from a household.  In that situation, he would attempt to obtain a proxy response for the address, such as a neighbor, landlord or apartment manager.   According to the Bureau, as of October 15th, approximately 24.1% of occupied households for the Nonresponse Follow-up addresses were accounted for by proxy response.  Jim Wolak stated he recorded less than 10% of proxy interview responses for the 2020 census.

THE 72 YEAR RULE
After 72 years have passed, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is responsible for making the records available for public viewing. (Title 44, U.S. Code).  Therefore, records from the 1950 census will be released in April, 2022.

SUMMARY
For the most part, Jim found respondents to be familiar with the importance of the census and how the data impacts funding for the community.  Many expressed appreciation for his collection efforts.  For those unclear as to the purpose of his visit, he took the time to provide an explanation.  The duration of each interview was about 10 minutes maximum, which he felt to be sufficient.  While he admits to having the door “slammed in his face” on one occasion, and did encounter some who refused to participate in the census (less than 10%), he does not recall anyone expressing a fear or suspicion of responding.  One person began the interview, but refused to proceed when prompted with census question #4  (phone number request).

The closing date for the 2020 census responses was not without its controversy, and even made its way to the Supreme Court.  In the end, October 15th marked the end of self-response and field data collection operations.  According to the Bureau, paper responses postmarked by October 15th and received at the processing center no later than October 22 would be counted.  Jim stated all addresses in our area were accounted for by the October 15th deadline.

Census records are a key genealogical source for those of us researching family history, and enumerators play a vital role in allowing us to pursue this passion.  We are grateful for their diligence and efforts in taking on this job.

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Suggested Family Research Sources

Merilee Mulvey shares a link to “How to Trace your Ancestors in Voter Records”. The article recently appeared in Family Tree Magazine by Diane Haddad, who suggests voter records as a source for family research through registration lists, certificates or cards. Read the article HERE.

Pat Rongey recently discovered a site called the Arolsen Archives. The Archives are a collection of documents with information on victims of the Holocaust and concentration camp prisoners, and more.  View their research site HERE

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Genealogy Readings

Debby Wright shares a link to an article by a family researcher on his personal experience in locating family through DNA testing. He details an 8-step procedure, beginning with the selection of DNA kits (he suggests 2), then what to do with the data and matches.  A well thought-out compilation.  View it HERE.

Video Tombstone – Creepy or Fascinating?
A recent post from Dick Eastman’s newsletter featured a story on Robert Barrows, creator of the Video Enhanced Gravemarker, which enables high quality transmission of video from a tombstone. Options include various size tv screens, speakers that attach to the gravestone or audio transmission through wifi headsets. Creepy or cool? Read more in this Candid Conversation interview.

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Upcoming Genealogy Events

Save the Dates:

Oregon Genealogy Society DNA Seminar (A Zoom Meeting)
Saturday, October 31, 2020
10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Topics include:
Making Your Case with Documents and DNA. The session will “show different ways that genealogical problems have solved bay integrating DNA evidence with the paper trail.

Problem Solving with DNA. This presentation will “examine relationships that were either unknown unproven from documentary research”.

For more details and registration form click HERE.

Roots Tech Connect (Roots Tech Conference) FREE
Online Conference – February 25 – 27, 2021

FamilySearch has announced Roots Tech Connect will be a free virtual online event, featuring keynote speakers, classes and a virtual marketplace. Interact with presenters, exhibitors, live chat and Q & A. Register HERE (free).

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Of Genealogy Interest

As a follow-up to their presentation on headstone symbols, Merilee Mulvey and Jacquie Beveridge, share a link for a further understanding of Catholic Cemetery Symbols.

Sally Daugherty has recently viewed a New York Times article of a 23andMe DNA study of enslaved people.  The study claims to show “how the treatment of enslaved people shaped the DNA of their descendants”.  Read the article HERE.

The U.S. Census Bureau has reported over 80.1% of American households (more than 90 million) have responded thus far to the 2020 census.  15.4% counted by census takers and other field data collection operations, and 64.7% of households responded online, by phone or by mail.

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Email Scam Warning

Debbie Wright sends out a warning to MyHeritage users of a recent phishing scam that people need to be aware of and remain vigilant for fake emails.  Beware of emails with the subject line “Ethnicity Estimate V2”.  Full details from the MyHeritage blog HERE.

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AncestryDNA Changes to DNA Matches

Member Pat Miller calls your attention to AncestryDNA’s plans to update their algorithm methodology intended to remove approximately 2/3 of the false DNA matches from match lists.  Only matches sharing 8 cM or more will be reported. (The current threshold is 6 cM).  Matches sharing less than 8 cM in total will no longer appear as common ancestor hints or in ThruLines.  The following links provide more details on what you need to know and how to preserve matches that may be jeopardized. The update will take place in early August.

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