In the 1920 Census, Nancy Said…


Part of Nancy Rampley’s 1920 census enumeration, West Point, Hancock County, Illinois.

I found myself writing the phrase “In 1920, Nancy Rampley told the census taker…”

And then I stopped and thought.

The phrase was not accurate. I realized that any genealogical editor worth their salt should not allow that phrase to be used for one simple reason:

We don’t really know who said what in the 1920 census.

Actually in most censuses we don’t really know who provided what information. Researchers may suspect they know (and they may suspect for good reason), but the fact remains that there’s no way to know for certain who provided what specific census information. That does not mean the census enumeration is wrong or that we think the information was always provided by a neighbor. It just means that it’s possible someone other than Nancy Rampley provided the information in her 1920 census enumeration and my discussion of her enumeration should not indicate something that I do not know. Saying “Nancy Rampley’s 1920 census enumeration indicated the following” is more reflective of what actually happened than it is to say “Nancy Rampley said in 1920 that…”

I need to remember:

I was not there in 1920 to see what happened when the census taker came to Nancy Rampley’s door.



3 thoughts on “In the 1920 Census, Nancy Said…

  1. Some census takers marked who they spoke to in the household, however. Usually something as simple as an “X” generally in the name field.

    • Or even if they went to that household’s door or not. I have read stories of census takers getting information from neighbors, either because no one was home or because the homes were so far apart and the census taker “didn’t want to walk that far.” I have a 2x great-grandmother who is enumerated as Gemima, Famiah, Minnie, and Mina (the correct name). I have no idea where Famiah came from!

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