Saturday, November 7, 2009

Immigration Stories in the U.S. Census

As I've prepared this week for a talk at the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, I've been thinking about how to talk to non-genealogists about the census. I've come up with two themes:
  • The U.S. census records and preserves immigration stories, and
  • When it becomes public in 2082, the 2010 census will provide a snapshot of our families for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Most Americans have immigrant ancestors. The U.S. Census is part immigration storybook. The 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses asked questions about immigration and citizenship status. This information, combined with information about birth place, give family history researchers the basics of their families' immigration story, and lead to other sources that help complete the story.

The 1900 census tells us that Charles Falk of Two Harbors, Minnesota, came to America in 1890. It says his first five children, aged 10 to 20, were born in Sweden. Four more children, aged 1 to 7, had been born in Minnesota. The census says Charles and Louisa had been married 20 years.

According to the 1910 census for Minneapolis, Andrew Pafko came to America from Hungary in 1906. A 10 year-old daughter had been born in Hungary, while a 4 year-old daughter and 2 year-old son were born in Minnesota. The family spoke Slovak, suggesting they were from the part of the Austria-Hungary now know as Slovakia.

We learn from the 1920 census for St. Paul, Minnesota, that Thomas Reeves came to the U.S. in 1909, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1919, was married and had a 6 month-old daughter. Thomas and wife Mary were born in Ireland, and the census-taker recorded their language as "Irish." Living with them was Thomas' brother-in-law Patrick McCarthy, giving a hint to Mary's maiden name.

The 1930 census found Italian-born Eugene Lattanzio living with his uncle Leonard Gaultieri in Two Harbors, Minnesota. His uncle's surname gives a clue to Eugene's mother's name. Unfortunately, Eugene's year of immigration is unreadable in the 1930 census, but the 1920 census says he had arrived in 1915, and had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen.

In each case, the census information gives clues for finding other records of genealogical interest, including marriages, birth records for children, and passenger arrival records.

Information about individuals in the upcoming 2010 census will be held confidential for 72 years (under current law), becoming available to researchers in 2082. When you complete your 2010 census return, you will be archiving information that will help your grandchildren and great-grandchildren reconstruct their ancestors lives. Many of us will someday be ancestors.

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