Taking the Census: Colorado Growth

The Census Bulletin, Issue 127, produced by the United States Census Office, October 21, 1891, offered analysis of Colorado’s growth from the 1880 to the 1890 census.
          The population of Colorado more than doubled in the ten years between census counts. From 194,327 people in 1880, the state grew 112% to 412,198 residents by 1890.
          In 1880, Denver was the largest city with 35,629 residents; Leadville was second with 14,820 people. By 1890, Denver had grown 199.5% to 106,713.  Pueblo had become the second largest town with 24,558, an increase of 663.38%. By contrast, Leadville’s population had dropped to 10,384 and Colorado Springs had slipped into third place with 11,140 residents.
          Only 29 towns had populations greater than 1,000 people in 1890. One new community of interest was established after the 1880 census. The mining town of Chipeta in Pitkin County had 266 residents by 1890.

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Taking the Census: Colorado 1860

Census takers in 1860 reported 34,277 residents in Colorado Territory. Although the area did not become a Territory until 1861, the information was extracted from other territories to appear in The Preliminary Report of the Eighth Census of the United States, issued May 20, 1862. The count came from the small front-range mining communities culled from Nebraska Territory. 
          The reported Colorado population was mostly male. The 2,000 females represented less than 6% of the residents counted.
          The population was predominantly white. There were less than 500 Negroes. In those days the census recorded only White, Negro and Other Races. The Indians of the mountains and plains were not counted. conference logo  The population was young. More than half of residents (55%) were between the ages of 15 and 24. These young people plus the 13,000 residents aged 25-44 comprised 94% of the population. The remaining 6% were people over age 44 and children under age 14.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau Series A 195-209. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/statab.html  and choose Bicentennial Edition Part 1

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Taking the Census: Letters from the Territories

Census records give us some perspective on early day Colorado, but only if we understand “Colorado” at that time.
          Colorado did not yet exist when the 1860 census count was taken. Parts of the future Colorado Territory lay in the Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico Territories. The individuals recorded in the “Colorado” census were found in the Nebraska Territory communities of Boulder, Boulder Creek, Denver, Gold Hill, Platte River and Miraville. 
          A unique look at those pre-Territorial days through letters, postmarks and stamps is found at  http://www.coloradoterritory.org/  conference logo
          One of my favorite entries on this site is the November 30, 1858 postcard with the return address “Montana, K.T. ,  Cherry Creek Gold Mines.”  Montana City was an early mining settlement located “where present West Evans Avenue crosses the Platte River in Denver.” K.T. stood for Kansas Territory. The writer tells his family back home in Michigan, “There is quite a rush here to the mines, as there are within a few miles of this place over 500 persons. There were only about 30 or 40 when we arrived.”

Taking The Census: Honored To Be Counted

         A part-time summer job as a Census Enumerator in 2000 turned out to be a memorable life experience.
          After training, I received my list of addresses from which no one had responded to the census questionnaire by mail. I set off to my assigned neighborhood on a hot afternoon in late May.
          Small 1940s era homes in various states of disrepair lined the street. Only two cars were in sight; it was a neighborhood of working people. Except for two elderly women who had come to their homes as newlyweds, the residents were immigrants. Some were undocumented. I was welcomed graciously at every door and no one hesitated to answer my questions, even when we communicated with a translation card.
          One particular family stands out in my memory. I had to return on Saturday to find anyone at home in the neat little house with the white picket fence where red balloons bobbed on the gate. I usually asked my questions while standing at the front door but this was one of the few homes on my list designated for the long questionnaire. I accepted the invitation to come inside.
          The whole family gathered in a circle around me—father, mother, and five daughters. The parents spoke limited English. It was the second daughter who served as family spokesperson. The balloons on the gate celebrated her high school graduation.
          When the father understood the purpose of my visit, he said a few words in Spanish and rushed to the telephone.
          “He is calling my uncle, his brother,” the second daughter said. “He wants them to come and share this event.”
          The mother served cold drinks and cookies while we waited. I learned that they were all legal immigrants from Mexico. The father held a maintenance job with the city; the mother and eldest daughter worked in a fruit processing plant. The second daughter had graduated with honors. She had a part-time job in the accounting department of the fruit processing plant and a college scholarship. The family spoke no English when they immigrated to join the father just four years earlier.
          The father’s brother, wife and two small children arrived and pulled their chairs into the circle. I asked the questions and the second daughter consulted her parents before answering. Throughout the process, four children under the age of ten watched and listened without squirming or saying a word.
          I looked around the circle of attentive faces and knew I was witnessing a moment that each member of this family would remember forever.          
          It seems such a routine task—irritating to some—when every ten years we are asked to answer a few questions on a post card and drop it in the mail. Being a census taker gave me a new perspective.
          I wish I could have captured more than names and dates that day. I wish that when grandchildren and great grandchildren of that family find those entries in census records—available in the year 2072 or later—they could feel the sense of honor, of belonging, that filled the room on the day the census taker came.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Taking the Census: The Day Dad Found Himself

Dad was 78 when he accompanied me to the National Archives Branch in Denver. He was not a researcher and had no idea that an ordinary citizen could look at census information. He just wanted to spend some time with me while I worked on a family history project.
          Filing cabinets and microfilm viewing machines were packed into the archives reading room. Only the occasional whump of a file drawer sliding shut or the whir of film on fast rewind broke the silence. I settled Dad at a desk next to mine, loaded a census film for Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, and forwarded it to Holland Township, where he grew up. It was the 1910 census. 
          Now and then as I worked, Dad tapped my arm. “Here’s Isaac and Jeanette LaGasse; I used to walk to school with them,” he whispered. I nodded without taking my eyes off my own work. A short time later, another tap. “Here’s my pa’s friend, Ed Ten Haken.” And so it went. Dad spent a nostalgic afternoon following the census taker through his rural farming community, stopping in at the homes of school mates and neighbors long forgotten.
          Everyone in the reading room that day heard Dad’s exclamation of delight when he found himself. He burst out with his customary, “Well, I’ll be switched,” as he pulled me over to look. There he was, Harvey Simmelink, age 9 months on that April day in 1910 when the census taker came to call.
          It was a validating moment for Dad. According to Sheboygan County, his birth had never been recorded. It was scrawled in the family Bible and his baptism was noted in the church rolls, but Dad did not have a birth certificate. Finding himself officially listed in a government record somehow closed that one nagging hole in an otherwise complete life.
          When I took Dad along that day, I was afraid he might be bored. Instead, he experienced an epiphany of wonder. I know my grandparents and those neighbors and childhood friends would be pleased to know that Dad stopped by to pay them a visit after all those years and found them at home.
(This story originally appeared in the New York Times on May 25, 2002 and The Saturday Evening Post Sept/Oct 2002.)
          In 2012 the 1940 census will be publicly available, giving people the opportunity to rediscover themselves as my Dad did. This year, 2010, is a census year. The information we all contribute will not become public until 2082. You never know who, in that distant future, will be as excited to find you as my Dad was to find himself.
         Please respond when the census form comes in the mail or when a census taker comes to your door.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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