It’s a Process

Just knocked out five more batches/pages of census index. I’ve entered more than 3400 names so far, and was starting to get a little cocky about it, but then I met an enumerator who knew just where to hit me where it would hurt.

After the first couple of pages of his, I ¬†got to where I could read his writing most of the time. I managed a 95% conformance on the first page despite his switching between names and abbreviations, ditto marks and slashes, etc.He never did indicate who the source of information was, but it’s too late to track him down for a reprimand now.

As I got into the pages where he started entering the Head by last name and initials, I started to take it a little personally. Then he stopped recording the first names of the wives. Seriously, the Head might be, for example, “Jones”, “K C”, and the wife would then be “Jones”, “K C”, “Mrs”. A whole page like that. If you have a relative in Brooks County, Georgia, I just indexed what he wrote; after that, you’re on your own. (Son of a gun; I was supposed to mark the field for Mrs. Jones’ given name “Blank” and put the “Mrs” in the next field. Dang!)

I was thinking again today about what the enumerators had to write with. Consider that the ballpoint pen wasn’t patented in Britain until 1938, and didn’t go on sale in the U.S. until 1948. All of the letters I’ve found from my father to my mother were written in pencil. My first fountain pen, a Sheaffer, back in 1957 or so, siphoned ink from a bottle into a reservoir, although by high school they had those cartridges of ink you could carry around. I’m a little more forgiving of some of the smudges on the census sheets, but only a little.

I don’t know at what point the census process began to be automated. I think I read that one of the earliest mainframes was delivered in time for 1950 census, so maybe indexing will be obsolete after this. At least in our process I believe there have been two indexers who have either agreed on their transcription or an arbitrator has adjudicated the differences. Can’t imagine what the first automated census is going to come out looking like. Remember in 2000 a little hanging “chad” screwed up a Presidential election.

I need to reread the rules of indexing. I’d have done better than 95% but was gigged because I took the liberty of correcting the enumerator’s work. For instance, he wrote something starting with an “Moult….” in “Colqui..” county, which I transcribed as Moultrie in Colquitt. I’m sure the arbitrator was correct because you can’t just have every indexer in the process doing their own “corrections,” but it didn’t feel right to leave it wrong. I’m sending myself back to school as penance.