On April 1 this year, it’s more than April Fool’s Day. It is the official start date, or Census Day, for the 2020 Federal Census. You may already have learned some things about this upcoming Census, as the Census Bureau is making an extensive effort to educate the America public about how and why to participate.
One thing new this year is that households will be able to respond to the 2020 Census in none of three ways: with a paper questionnaire, or online, or even over the telephone.
Once again, the questionnaire is bilingual, with English and Spanish language versions. The Spanish version is provided primarily for Spanish-speaking residents who are U.S. citizens by virtue of residing in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States.
Federal law requires residents to participate in the U.S. Census Survey. The census is required by the Constitution, which has called for an “actual enumeration” once a decade since 1790. The 2020 population numbers will shape how political power and federal tax dollars are shared in the U.S over the next 10 years. You can use the Internet to download a sample copy of the 2020 Census Questionnaire by going to this URL: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/technical-documentation/questionnaires/2020.html.
The sample version excludes some features that will be made available to households starting in March 2020, such as the URL for online response and the contact information for phone response.
You will be urged to respond to the questionnaire
The Census Day is important as that is the date used to determine the proper answers to questions of residency and age.
The Census has been conducted by Federal law every 10 years beginning in 1790. The official Census Day is when the enumerators were sent out to begin census-taking. The Census Day has varied from time to time, a fact that is important for genealogists to know who are interested in estimating birth years from ages recorded by census enumerators.
Several genealogical database providers make available online complete census data from 1790 through 1940. The census data has been released to the public 72 years after the census date. This means that the 1950 census will be release on or about April 1, 2022.
For your reference, here are the Census Days for the 16 censuses that have been conducted since 1790 and released for public use:
US Census Days
1790: Aug. 2
1800: Aug. 4
1810: Aug. 6
1820: Aug. 7
1830: June 1
1840: June 1
1850: June 1
1860: June 1
1870: June 1
1880: June 1
1890: June 1 (this was a Sunday, so census-taking began June 2)
1900: June 1
1910: April 15
1920: Jan. 1
1930: April 1 (Oct. 1, 1929 in Alaska)
1940: April 1
The Census Bureau maintains a website with a wide variety of interesting historical facts about the Census and census-taking at https://www.census.gov/history/. On the home page, you might want to click on the Genealogy drop-down menu for more information.