Have Your Say: 2010 Census Records!

Genealogists, you love census records. I would easily nominate you as their No. 1 fan! Census records are rock stars for those who love to research family history.

2010 CensusHave you ever wondered what it will be like to research the 2010 Census records in the future?

The decisions about what is permanently kept are being made today, and you can have your say. Right now, the appraisal and records schedule of the 2010 Census are available for public review and comment. There is a Records Express blog post and a notice in the Federal Register, but we also wanted to make sure those of you who follow NARAtions are aware of the opportunity to review and comment.

Here are some tidbits from the appraisal:

  • “Perhaps of most importance to genealogists, the proposed schedule provides that the 2010 decennial census forms will be preserved in the form of scanned images.”
  • “…the proposed schedule provides that all permanently valuable records be transferred to the legal and physical custody of the National Archives within ten years of the completion of the census.”
  • “The transfer of electronic records that have value for genealogic research is even more expedited. For example, the digital images of the response questionnaires are to be transferred to the National Archives no later than August 21, 2011, and the Individual Census Record File is to be transferred no later than September 30, 2013.”
  • The appraisal also talks about the MAF/TIGER database and that the “extracts from the database will be incorporated into schedules for the programs divisions responsible for those products.”

Take a look at the 2010 Census appraisal and records schedule. I recommend reviewing the appraisal first because it provides an “Executive Summary,” which gives good background information. The appraisal provides the “Proposed Disposition” (temporary or permanent?), as well as the “Appropriateness of Proposed Disposition” and an “Appraisal Justification.”

Yes, together it’s over 40 pages, but if you’re a history and policy lover like me, I hope you’ll be up for the challenge of reviewing it!

Comments are welcome here on NARAtions or the Records Express Blog. You can also email records.mgt@nara.gov or by mail to: NARA (NWML), 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001 by December 30, 2011. All comments will be made part of NARA’s official file on the records schedule and will be preserved as federal records.

25 thoughts on “Have Your Say: 2010 Census Records!

  1. Why aren’t married women given the right to list their maiden names in the census reports? If this practice were initiated, everyone would recognize the difference in the surname of the husband/wife. Many women of today aren’t taking the name of their husbands or they are hyphenating the two names into one title. What an easier path through genealogy this simple step would make. Take a poll and you would find out the majority of today’s women would prefer to be listed in this manner.

  2. One thing that must be taken into consideration with digitized records is: will this be readable in 10 or 20 years? How will the images be transferred to the next digitization and storage formats that come along? Will the newer formats be compatible with the format being used now? How will that be assured?

    For another, the 2010 census is certainly — alas — the lightweight of all the censuses probably since 1850. I was quite disappointed in the scanty information it gathered. If you are really interested in making the censuses useful to genealogists, at least include occupation, birthplace (even if just state), parents’ birthplaces, and possibly year of birth.

    Finally, I agree with Suzanne Hess. It would be wonderful if the censuses recorded married womens’ maiden names.

  3. Karen – Thanks for your comment. I can address your first question about digital formats and preservation of the digital records. We will work closely with the Census Bureau to ensure that their scanning procedures are consistent with our guidance. We have developed transfer standards that provide the best guidance we can to ensure the long-term sustainability of the format. In addition, our procedures once we receive the files will ensure that they are preserved in the most appropriate manner. For more information about our transfer standards for scanned images, please visit this link: http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/initiatives/scanned-textual.html

  4. The Census seemed more interested in ethnic groups instead of really preserving information for posterity.

  5. Census record information is key to finding one’s ancestors. Having access to comprehensive, accurate information will be the life-blood of future genealogists. Genealogy brings alive history, and gives people a sense of respect for the past and sparks a lifelong interest for some, bringing passion and commitment to otherwise dull lives. Please keep our census records open for public access and take as much information as possible when doing the census. Future generations will thank you beyond measure.

  6. It was very clear that the main purpose of the 2010 census was to see just what variety of Hispanic a person was. The 1900 census shows the state or country where the person was born, also their parents as well. In addition, it gives the number of years the person has been married. At this point in time, a maiden name for women should have been given. The current administration in Washington was obviiusly looking for Hispanic votes. The census was a bad example of a twisted government now ruled by a group of Socialists.

  7. Having the First, Middle, Last name of the Husband or Man with the listing of the Woman her First Middle, (Married) Last and (Maiden) Last name. Also their Birthday, Marriage date if so. Their Parents information ie., Names, Birthdate and their Children information. All this as to where they were Born. Might add Schools attended for all. Given to each Family to fill out a Spread Sheet with a copy to keep for the family. Just a start in my opinion.

  8. Since it will be sometime in 2082 when this census is released to the public, we have no idea what will happen between then and now with regard to technology. Somebody needs to give this some serious thought so that however these records are preserved now, they will be accessable then.

  9. I agree with Winifred – ethnicity seemed to be the priority with the 2010 census – I would like to see more information gathered – I like the idea of the womens’ maiden names being included, birthplaces, occupations, etc. I also agree that they should be open for public access.

  10. Census is one of the tools for finding your ancestors. I believe it can help to put togethor family information. The passion that I felt when I found my Grandparents on the census was beond believe. In the 2011 census should have age, sex, place of birth, where they work, address of family, number of years married, how maney children given birth to, and her maden name or his maden name. I beleve some men take their wife’s last name. This might help the generation to come, to find their family. And get to know them better.

  11. the 2010 census as one of the previous commenters pointed out was aimed at enthic regtistration. I was disappointed that more information that would be important to our education level was not recoreded.

  12. The thought that we’d become a paperless society through the use of computers hasn’t exactly worked out, has it?

    Digitization of important documents provides ready access to images that in paper format would succumb to natural aging, and disintegrate prematurely by over-handling.

    Prioritizing which documents must be preserved as originals is a decision for the people of a republic, through their elected leaders.

    Just as I cannot imagine looking only at the scanned image of the Declaration of Independence, I also fear losing original census records to be consulted by serious researchers and historians in future generations.

    Some complain that adequately housing massive manuscript collections is costly but I believe this cost is balanced by the need of a republic to preserve its history.

    Great Britain is managing to preserve a much longer history than the US by maintaining ancient original documents.

    I believe it was George Santayana who said “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

  13. I found the information asked on the 2010 census to be too brief, and will NOT HELP future genealogically interested people look back to find their ancestors. Besides, What was the thought behind a couple of the questions ? They seem of LITTLE importance!

    1. Hi everybody – there are so many responses since the original post, that I am going to try and respond to everybody at the same time.

      I think you have all raised some interesting points about the census (both the content and the use of the records). However, because NARA doesn’t have anything to do with the questions asked on the census, I can’t comment on the specific issues.

      But it’s good to see so much interest in the census and its future!

      – Katherine

  14. Margaret – Your comment about the digital formats around in 2082 is accurate and certainly one that we take seriously. We will follow archival guidelines and best practices to ensure that the formats are sustainable over time. Our FAQ on Sustainable records addresses this very concern: http://go.usa.gov/Owh

    Pat, as you know, the proposed records schedule provides that the 2010 decennial census forms will be preserved in the form of scanned images. This is similar to past practice with census forms. Paper forms have not been preserved for any of the 20th century censuses, with microfilm having replaced paper as a permanent medium for the forms. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

  15. I found the census to be of little or no importace. The census needs to have more information in then about your family. They should be keep so that records will be accessable to the public.

  16. Family information that was once collected from a sample of census households (the long form) is now collected in the American Community Survey. Since the ACS is collected under the decennial census authority and is considered by the census bureau to be a part of the census, will those records be available to researchers in 72 years?

  17. Just as I cannot imagine looking only at the scanned image of the Declaration of Independence, I also fear losing original census records to be consulted by serious researchers and historians in future generations.

  18. David, As I noted over on Records Express, I have checked with the appraisal staff and the answer to your question is yes, the American Community Survey data will be made available to researchers in 72 years.

  19. Must people of this republic be forced to rely solely on second generation copies?

    Maybe casual genealogy researchers won’t mind.

    What happens if during the digital processing, pages are unreadable or missing? NARA has that problem with pre-1900 census microfilming.

    Admittedly with digitizing, the error rate will be small. But what if it is your family records that are missing?

    Our history is modified, and indeed our ability to reevaluate that history over time is hampered, if we permit any technology to distance serious historians from viewing original records in context. Shall we destroy petroglyphs found in the caves of New Mexico and Arizona, in order to replace those ancient homes with brand-spanking new energy-efficient town homes merely because our burgeoning population needs the space?


    The fact that record groups are being preserved digitally doesn’t mean we should throw away any originals.

    For example, when some census microfilm pages are unreadable, turning to the original census book is the alternative if the original exists. Some serious researchers discovered transcription errors between the original census enumeration (housed at the county level) and the copies made for the state and federal government. What NARA has is essentially a 2nd copy of those original enumeration. But with few originals at local county courthouses, we’re forced to rely on that copy.

    We’re smarter now.


    When requesting copies of complete US Civil War Pension files, some researchers found pages were skipped. Discovery of this phenomenon happened when impatient researchers couldn’t wait for NARA’s copy, and hired professionals to go in person, order up the original file, and copy the entire contents. Later when the file copies were received from NARA, comparisons between the two sets of copies showed on more than one occasion, that indeed pages were missing in the NARA “complete” copies.

  20. I’m responding to some of the comments that I’ve seen here and not the guidelines themselves since there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the role of the Census Bureau in deciding the content of the Census. My perspective is that of an amateur genealogist and retired Census employee of 30+ years. In recent decades the Bureau has been required to provide very strong justifications to Congress (the final arbiter) for each question asked. Each has to be shown to respond to a specific constitutional or legislative requirement. While we genealogists want more information to be collected the vast majority of our friends and neighbors have no interest in it or are openly opposed to what they see as too much government snooping or a waste of taxpayers’ money. Many politicians believe that the Census should only get a head count as a way to fulfill the constitutional requirement for congressional reapportionment and redistricting. As I recall, during the 2000 Census President Bush said that he agreed with critics that thought the Census was too intrusive. If we want more information collected then we have to convince our friends, neighbors and politicians that it’s important and that they should be willing to allocate the necessary tax dollars to do it. That process needs to begin several years before the next Census when Congress and the Census Bureau are determining what information will be collected on the Census form. Also, when we see newspaper articles or TV news pieces with people complaining about intrusive Census questions we need to contact those media outlets and offer a counter view.

  21. David, Your second question is beyond the scope of the appraisal and scheduling of the records of the 2010 decennial census as it is related to the separate series of ACS records. You may wish to consider raising it with the Census Bureau.

  22. As a genealogist and librarian, I believe that scanned images of each individual form would be the ideal. It seems impractical to retain each form in paper format. As to the questions asked, I do know people who objected to the questions asked this year as too intrusive. To ask more personal questions will most likely decrease the number of voluntary responses.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  23. I agree with some of these comments that are on here for you to look at. I have done genealogy since abt. 1985 with family, thanks to my Aunt Jo. She started it during reunions and family information taken at the time. Of course, there was some information missing and/or wasn’t known at the time. In searching I found some information at Courthouse, but the census has a lot of information of them. The Censustakers today know how to spell correctly or ask how to spell the name correctly. The handwritting is something else. The digital images would be great and I hope readable to the eye or viewer of them. I also agree that the woman’s maiden name should be added to the Census, because it is important for the simple reason woman that marry do keep their maiden name and don’t take their husband’s name. I also agree that the man should give their rightful name, because they do sometimes take the maiden name of their spouse, because she don’t want to change her name. There are also those that have married 4 or five times. The man has no problem with his name, but it would be nice if he had to list the first name of each wife along with the maiden names or the woman had to list each name of the husbands that they was married to between each Census taken. Then it would help the genealoglist to know that they got the right person for the family or not. The parents birth place of each person is good to know, because this help in making the right choice in identifing the correct relative in the Census. Of course, in my case, I have posted my information in my Family Tree that I have done on a genealogy site, which encluse where I have lived during which year so that they know the information now and not later.
    You say that you release the Census for people to see every 20 years, which 1940 should be out, according to Census Bureau, in April this year or 2012. Which I think was suppose to have been out sooner, but you didn’t want to release them do to the fact that people are living much longer now then back in 1920’s or 1930’s, I don’t think is right. People are living longer, because of the things that are being developed today to help them to live longer. You shouldn’t punish the population for it. RELEASE THE CENSUS FOR US TO LOOK AT NOW AND DON’T HOLD THEM BACK JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE LIVING LONGER, IT ISN’T RIGHT TO PUNISH US FOR WHAT RESEARCHERS ARE DOING TO HELP PROLONG LIFE TODAY.

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