This guest blog post was written by Paul Wester, head of the Modern Records Programs at NARA.
Portions of the genealogical community are under the impression that the 2010 Decennial Census forms will not be preserved by the NARA. This impression is mistaken.
NARA has not officially received and registered a proposed records retention schedule from the Census Bureau for the 2010 census. (A records retention schedule is required when agencies propose the disposition of Federal records, in any form. Click here to review Frequently Asked Questions about Records Scheduling and Disposition.) However, NARA staff members have been holding preliminary discussions with the Census Bureau about a draft retention schedule for records of the 2010 census.
The 2010 census is planned as an all-electronic census which will affect the format in which permanent records are preserved. The Census Bureau will scan the respondent questionnaires as part of its business process for compiling the census. The draft schedule calls for the permanent retention of the scanned digital images. These scanned images are the 21st century equivalent to the microfilm copies of census forms generated for previous decennial censuses.
In addition, the Census Bureau is also proposing permanent retention for the unedited file containing response data, with linkage information to the scanned images. This means that once the census is opened to the public 72 years from the enumeration date of the 2010 census, genealogists will have two means of searching for their ancestors. They can search the database, which will contain all the data (including names and addresses) from the respondent forms. They can also use the database to locate and retrieve images of the forms themselves.
Once the Census Bureau submits the final schedule and the records have been appraised by NARA, NARA will publish notice of the schedule in the Federal Register, enabling the public to obtain and comment on the schedule. In the meantime, NARA will continue to work closely with the Census Bureau to ensure that the schedule meets the needs of genealogists and other researchers who will make use of information and data from the census.