Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Census

So, today I filled out the census form, one of the few truly nation-wide acts a citizen or resident of the U.S. can do.

I'm sure I must have done so before but I can only remember it once, when someone with a clipboard came by when I was living at Kane Place in the smallest of my many small apartments from my student and grad student days. That would be in 1990. The only residents were myself and Parker the cat (then only a year old), who wasn't counted.

Most of my contact with the census has been with censuses past, back when I got interested in family history while in Scouting as a result of working on the Genealogy merit badge. I never did get the badge, for reasons I no longer remember,* but I learned a lot about my ancestry from talking to both my grandmothers and writing to great-uncles and great aunts. I can sum up what I found out like this:

1. We've been here a long time. I could only find one ancestor not born in this country, my great-great-great grandmother, who came over from the Scotch-Irish part of Ireland as a child in the 1790s.

2. We're all Southerns: mostly from Arkansas but also Mississippi and Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina. Even today most of my relatives like in Arkansas or Texas (I'm the outlier here, having lived all over Arkansas but then shifting to first Wisconsin and now Washington state).**

3. Old censuses and similar records are useless in establishing something I really wanted to know: when the name took on its current spelling (Rateliff, with a silent e). That's because just about everybody used to get it wrong, so if you saw a reference to a Ratliff or Ratcliff it was just as likely to be the census-taker's mistake as an accurate record.

It was interesting getting to know a lot of far-flung relatives I'd never met, but I eventually came up against a brick wall, that being the farthest back living memory cd go. I found that lots of people remembered their grandparents' names, so if you cd talk to a member of your grandparents' generation you cd go back as far as yr grandparents' grandparents (that is, your great-great grandparents). But when I came across an ancestor named John Smith I knew that was as far as I was going . . .

--John R.

--current viewing: THE RETURN OF THE KING, all three hours and twenty minutes in one uninterrupted go.

*I still have my old sash, which has forty-six badges, so it was not for lack of diligence.

**Wisconsin because of the Tolkien and Washington for the D&D.


David Bratman said...

When I was researching in the England-Wales census of 1901, I found that a certain 9-year-old boy of interest to us, and his mother and brother, were to be found under the name Tonkien. That was 15 years ago I was doing that research; I wonder if it was ever fixed? But it's not worth the time for me to check now.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David

Good example, since we know the -Tolkien- spelling of the name goes back several generations before JRRT's time.

Remind me sometime to tell you the 'Uncle Vann' story about why Rateliff is spelled Rateliff.