Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The 2010 Census: Boredom Alert

Well I just read through the 5-page questionnaire that is the 2010 census form that I received in the mail today. Man is it boring.

Apparently all they want to know is how many people live at the residence, what their name, age, sex and ethnicity are, and whether they also live somewhere else (like jail).

They also want to find out if you are Hispanic and if so, what sort of Hispanic.

And that’s just about it.

So for a white guy this is one boring questionnaire.

This isn’t what I recall in times past. I vaguely remember some very pointed but odd questions. Ones that make you ask yourself “why do they want to know that?” Not this time, though.

I guess I could lie. I could tell them that I am a 101-year old Hispanic Laotian. It’s been done before in my family.

No, really.

See one thing I did before I started wasting my time writing this blog is wasting my time looking up long-dead relatives and putting together a family tree. To date I have over 9500 names in my research. One source of genealogical information is, as it turns out, the US Census. It’s supposed to be fact-based but there are facts and then there are facts.

In 1920 the census taker appeared at my great grandmother’s door. Back then they were also interested in nationality. But things in 1920 weren’t altogether going too well for someone of great grandmother’s nationality because America had just helped to defeat the Kaiser in what they then called The Great War. My great grandmother spoke with a heavy German accent, this despite the fact that she was born in Missouri in 1864. Her father emigrated from Prussia 20 years before.

So what do you do? Back then Germans were viewed with suspicion and here was a woman who obviously spoke German saying she was born in Washington County, Missouri.

Yeah, right.

So she told the man that she was born in Alsace, France.

Alsace borders on Germany and many Alsatians speak German because the area has been part of both countries in the past, getting handed back and forth depending on who the winner of the last war was.

In 1920 it was part of France.

So Great Grandmother Lizzie lied to the US Census 90 years ago because the truth wasn’t believable.

So I guess I could just lie, right?

Or not.

Grandma Lizzie had a good reason to pull the wool over the census taker’s eyes. Lying out of sheer boredom is never a good reason.


JJR said...

On my dad's side of the family, back in Missouri, we have some German ancestry, though everyone calls it Pennsylvania Dutch, which to anyone who knows anything about Pennsylvania Dutch knows that actually means--German.

But it was a good enough ruse to tell neighbors during WW1 and WW2, since it got my relatives off the hook and not viewed with the same scrutiny as other neighbors with less ambiguous German ancestry.

We'd just say "who me? We're Pennsylvania Dutch! Down with the Kaiser!" and people would nod and just keep going. Idioten, aber Gott sei dank daf├╝r.

Hal said...

That's funny and it gets back to my thesis about denial.

The "Pennsylvania Dutch" were anything but Dutch (Nederlanders). They were German. Deutsch. Not Dutch. As in Deutschland, Germany.

Nice how that ruse helped propel German-Americans into the mainstream of our society. Despite two bitterly fought wars.

Did I fail to mention that my Uncle Clarence was a proud member of the German-American Bund in the 30's? He was not an overly bright man, my Uncle Clarence.