Census Sometimes Little Help Tracking Migrations

I put my census form in the mail a little after the first of the month. I also scanned it, and I’m making some family group sheets to go with photographs.  All these items together will constitute our family’s census 2010 documentation.

Seventy-two years from now, family researchers may conclude that I have lived in the same county for an uninterrupted thirty years or more.  I was here on Census Day 1980, Census Day 1990, Census Day 2000, and Census Day 2010.  Of the six censuses on which I should appear including the present, four of them show me living in Sacramento County.  In fact, during that 30 year period of time, I have lived in Prince George’s County, Maryland; Pima County, Arizona; Suffolk and Norfolk counties in England; El Paso County, Colorado; Alexandria city, Virginia (twice); and Fairfax County, Virginia (basically in that order).  But somehow, I always manage to be back in Sacramento County at census time.

At the time of the 1970 census, I lived in Monterey County, California.   Before the 1970 census, I had spent more than half my life to that point, living in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.  At the time of the 1960 census, I actually lived in Karlsruhe, Baden-Wuerttemburg, Bundesrepublik Deutschland [Federal Republic of Germany, then popularly known as “West Germany”], very near the French border.

So in 1960, my family was among the 1,374,422 Americans living abroad. (Oops, make that 1,374,421 —Elvis had left the Bundesrepublik on March 1 before Census Day).  These consisted not only of military personnel and their dependents living with them, but included federal civilian employees stationed abroad and their dependents living with them; crews of vessels of the US merchant Marine at sea or docked at a foreign port; and private US citizens living abroad for an extended period and their dependents living with them.   In 1960, none of these people were enumerated stateside, and hence were not included in the apportionment of Congress.  (See Mills, Karen M., Americans Overseas in US Censuses, Technical Paper #62, US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1993, available at http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/overseas/techn62-1.pdf ).
My dad, an Army first lieutenant at the time, received a form like the one below, and filled it out.  He returned the form through his chain of command, and it, like all such forms, was eventually shipped to the Census Operations Center at Jeffersonville, Indiana.
1960 military census form

1960 military census form (back)

Census form used by military personnel overseas in 1960 (front and back)

One result of the 1960 census for my family was that the government had two different domiciles for us: the Census Bureau said we were domiciled “overseas,” and the Army said we were residents of Harris County, Texas, a place I had only visited for less than a week in my entire life to that point. What a country!

The rule about where to count Americans overseas, i.e., as part of their “home state” population or some “Americans abroad” population, has been different from time to time.  Starting in 1990, the rule was to count them as part of their home state population, which of course has an effect on congressional apportionment.  In 2010, the pre-1990 rule will be back in effect: Americans abroad will not be counted as part of their home states populations.

At the time of the 1950 census, my dad was a high school senior, and a census enumerator.  And I, well, I simply was non-existent.

No census shows me at the place of my birth or reflects the time I spent living in Marion County, Indiana.

Where were you during the censuses of the last fifty years?  How well does the census document where you’ve been?


4 Responses to “Census Sometimes Little Help Tracking Migrations”

  • Joan says:

    I was born in 1962, then 3 years later, my father moved us overseas. So we were “private citizens living abroad” for my entire childhood. I moved to California in 1980 for college, but was not counted on the census until 1990. This may confound future generations who may do genealogy research (as I do)… “She just showed up out of nowhere at the age of 28… where the heck WAS she??”

  • Craig says:

    I lived there in 1979 while stationed at U.S. Air Force headquarters in Washington.

  • Michael Hait says:

    OK, now you have to tell me about when you lived in Prince George’s County! I have lived here my entire life!

  • Apple says:

    I moved around quite a bit, but rarely too far from CNY. The census won’t show my year in NC in the mid 70’s. It will show me living in Arkron, NY in 1990 and back to CNY by 2000. It won’t show our brief return to Akron and I’m sure my descendant’s, if they are familiar with this region, will wonder why on earth we decided to live out in Snowville in 2010! Hopefully 2020 will find us someplace warm and sunny.

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