Before the 1940 Census, enumerators made no note of their informants. It’s impossible to categorize pre-1940 census data as primary or secondary information when you don’t know who told the census taker what. Most of the time, we just plain don’t know whether the census taker talked to great-great-great grandpappy or a neighbor down the road–which is of course why the thorough genealogist relies on more than just census data.
But if you’re lucky, great-great-great grandpappy was the census taker:
The Asheville Weekly Citizen published a list of western North Carolina census takers in May of 1880, including their name, district and–to the best of the paper’s information–political party. W.M. Crymes was listed as Republican,2 which begs some questions about his Civil War service, but that’s another post for another day.
William was also a census taker in 1890, which makes the near-total loss of the 1890 census even more acute for me. Nearly all of the original census questionnaires for 1890 burned in 1921, and the only reason I know W.M. Crymes was appointed census taker that year is because the Citizen once again reported as much3…with a lot more editorializing than the straight-to-the-point list the same paper published in 1880:
Granted, the 1890 Census questions were more comprehensive than in previous years, but the Citizen appears to have had a disproportionately big bone to pick. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the Citizen was a Conservative Democratic paper4 while both the governor of North Carolina and the president at the time were Republicans.
At any rate, when it comes to the 1880 Census, I’m in the rare and unique position of being able to categorize each piece of data as primary or secondary information, because the head of household himself is the one who wrote it all down.
Now, if only I could time travel to 1921 and stop the Commerce Building from catching fire…
1. 1880 U.S. census, Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina, population schedule, enumeration district 84, p. 138 (stamped), p. 31 (penned); digital image, “United States Census, 1880,” Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YB6-9CJC : accessed 21 February 2018).↩
2. “List of Enumerators of the Census Appointed for Counties West of the Blue Ridge,” Asheville (N.C.) Weekly Citizen, 20 May 1880, p. 8, cols. 1-2; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/63416112 : accessed 21 February 2018.)↩
3. “Census Enumerators,” Asheville (N.C) Weekly Citizen, 5 June 1890, p. 6, col. 2; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/61577069 : accessed 21 February 2018).↩
4. William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), “Asheville Citizen Times”; transcription, NCPedia (https://www.ncpedia.org/asheville-citizen-times : 21 February 2018).↩