These posts do not attempt to be comprehensive. They are all beginnings, each an effort to win some new insights into the workings, significances, and meanings of the census.

Some posts begin with an interesting primary source, with a compelling article from the secondary literature, or with something from the news. From the start, they spool out one or two key themes, often drawing on some other research I’ve been doing.

A recurring type of post attempts to recreate census-taking encounters at the doorstep, at the moment of enumeration. These usually begin with a person who I’ve encountered in the archives or otherwise find interesting. These recreations fascinate me not only for the stories they tell about those being enumerated, but because they invite us to learn more about the enumerator, one of the too-often faceless thousands mobilized to record for the nation and for posterity the facts of every American life.

Sources and Citations

This site depends on the archival materials preserved in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Most records belong to Record Group 29, Bureau of the Census records. Eventually I’ll post about how you too could trek to D.C. and see these or similar files. For the sake of keeping a clean look, I have not included footnotes or full references to archival material. But if you’re curious where a quote came from, the info is there: just view the source code for the blog post and you’ll find the citation written as a comment in the code immediately after the relevant paragraph.

I also draw on the manuscript census documents, the sheets that enumerators filled in with individual data. Past census documents become public after 72 years. So right now the most recent manuscript census belongs to the census of 1940. 1950 records will roll out in 2022. Available records have been digitized and can be searched using a subscription service like When I use these sources, I include the enumeration district (ED), supervisor’s district(SD), and sheet number in a comment that you can view in the page source.

If I can, I link to copies on the Web of sources I’ve referenced. Otherwise: look for citations in the source code.


I will capitalize Census Bureau. I will not capitalize when talking about the census, or a specific census—like the 16th census, about which I am writing a book.

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