ABCs of Family History: E


is for enumeration. Enumeration, or the process of counting people, is crucial to genealogical research because it ultimately results in a census. (For more on census records, click here.) In the U.S., enumeration occurs every 10 years, and the next round starts in 2020. (Census Day is officially 4/1/20.)

How does the enumeration process work? It starts with an invitation from the U.S. Census Bureau. 95% of households will receive this invitation in the mail. Almost 5% of households will receive it in person from a census taker. The remaining households (mostly in remote areas) won’t receive an invitation; instead, they will be counted in person by a census taker. Each of these categories is assigned to a Type of Enumeration Area (TEA). To see what category your geographic area is assigned to, check out the TEA Viewer.

Households assigned to the self-response TEA will have the option to provide data online, by mail, or by phone. According to the Census Bureau, information provided by households is kept confidential and is used only to produce statistics. The information is never shared with immigration enforcement agencies, the FBI, or local police. However, census records are released to the general public 72 years after Census Day. So, the next census scheduled to be released (1950) will be available in April 2022.

The enumeration process benefits more than family historians. It also—

  • determines how many representatives each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • is used to redraw district boundaries. (Redistricting counts are sent to the states by 3/31/21.)
  • is used by communities to plan for new roads, schools, and emergency services.
  • is used by businesses to plan for new retail areas.
  • is used by federal agencies to distribute federal funds.

Are you dreading next year’s enumeration process? It shouldn’t be too bad. The Census Bureau will be using existing public data to reduce follow-up visits. It also is automating field operations to make the process more efficient. And think of it this way—the information you provide next year will benefit family historians for generations to come.