[APG Public List] Understanding Genealogical Tools

Ray Beere Johnson II raybeere at yahoo.com
Wed May 12 14:46:37 MDT 2010

     As genealogists, we often get so wrapped up in our own perspective, we forget anything else. We consider the census "good" because we use it to discover important information about our ancestors. I do _NOT_ endorse attacking Census employees, or anyone else, and although I haven't seen the rant you mention, it is almost certainly crazy. There are enough of them out there...
     But national censuses _have_ been used to achieve horrible ends. The government of Nazi Germany took advantage of data taken from census forms to locate and round up those they considered "undesirable". Our own US Census bureau delivered statistical data broken down into such small geographic units that it greatly simplified the task of rounding up and interning perfectly loyal Japanese-Americans during World War Two. The reality is that censuses are a tool. Like any tool, they can be used for good or ill. Our perception of the census as a purely positive thing is as distorted, in its own way, as the opposite viewpoint.
     In our modern world, when the collection of far more extensive, detailed data by _private_ entities is so widespread, fearing the census _is_ crazy. There are databases with far more dangerous potential than the scraps the Census Bureau collects. But the census is a tool which could be - and historically has been - badly misused, and while forgetting that might make little difference in our research, any lapse in understanding the tools we use could lead us astray.
     How much more likely is a researcher who automatically assumes opposition to the census is "crazy" to overlook the fact certain groups had well founded reasons for desiring to dodge the census taker? How large an impact might that have on the final result of their research?
                             Ray Beere Johnson II

--- On Wed, 5/12/10, barb at johnwylie.com <barb at johnwylie.com> wrote:

> We received one of those “the sky is falling” mass emails linking to a 
> utube rant from a guy who said the government was invading everyone’s 
> privacy by taking the census. I suggested that the sender should return 
> his military retirement checks and his Social Security checks if he 
> doesn’t want the government to know where to find him. His 
> step-daughter then took me to task. 
> I suppose the world has always had crazies. Technology has just given 
> them a broader stage. 


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