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People who were socially or economically important, like the prominent people described in the previous section, leave more evidence of their lives in surviving records, whether those records are city directories or town hall records, local newspapers or local building and street names. But 1910 Willimantic was made up of far more than politicians and business leaders and doctors and church preachers. Unfortunately it is difficult for us to learn much about these 'average' people as individuals - see an example of a young mill worker. As a result, social historians often turn to systematic information from government documents like the U.S. census. They can't give us much detail into how they lived, but these sources do at least allow us to get some information about them which we can expand upon.
According to the U.S Census Bureau, the census is a head count of every single person in the United States. The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and is conducted by the U.S Census Bureau, which is a non-partisan organization. The first census took place in 1790 and is repeated every ten years. The census includes questions that are chosen by Congress with the aim of determining the state of the nation in terms of demographics among other things. The census is a political document as the questions that are included in each census may vary according to what information Congress is looking to know about the population. That being said, the U.S Constitution poses some limits on the questions that can be asked in a census to personal information and freedoms. Such questions may be regarding an individual's religion, political affiliation, etc. For a visualization of the types of questions as they evolved over time, see Alec Barrett's "The Evolution of the American Census." Political debates also erupt over how to conduct the census (full enumeration vs. statistical sampling), as well as whether the resulting numbers are an accurate accounting of every person, or whether some groups are underrepresented in the counts.
What happens with the information from the Census?
Individual records collected by the census cannot be released for 72 years, so those who choose to participate in the census can have the assurance their information is protected by law. The information collected from the count is used for an array of things:
- Determine apportionment of representation in the House of Representatives.
- Provides information of what the state of a community, city, or state may be.
- Provides information that shows if the population has increased, decreased, or stayed stable.
- Helps make decisions for funds allocation and budgeting for important services like education, health, and other key infrastructure.
- Helps guide planning for communities and the country.