A Spark Station Letter – US Census Lesson for children

by Mary Ann on November 5, 2010

smiling girl picture

Aubrey, age 10

Here is another Spark Station Letter example that grandparents and other “far-away” adults can use to inspire the children they love.

Dear Aubrey,

I am so sorry that I missed writing to you in April. It is a bummer, I know. I have a wonderful coaching-speaking business which takes a bit of time. I also help a few elderly people out and I am working a few hours a day for the US Census to help pay for Aunt Kate’s wedding. So I let myself just get really busy. I will watch that in the future because writing to you and your sisters is a real pleasure for me and I MISSED IT!!!!

three small girls picture

Elizabeth, Ashley, Aubrey

The census has been taken every ten years since the early days of the United States of America, 1790 to be exact. The word for “every ten years” is decennial. The Constitution requires only that the decennial census be a population count. So when the census started all they asked a family was how many people lived in their house.u.s census bureau images

When all the people were counted they could tell by the number how many representatives each state could have in Congress. Some states have a lot more than other states because more people live there. That helps people have an equal say in what happens in the government. Utah could have had another representative in Congress if they had had only 800 more people counted ten years ago!congress logo marker picture

The census office was only open once every ten years for the counting. But soon they started asking for a lot more information. They wanted to know what a family made, what race they were, their education and so forth. Then they looked at all this information to see what was happening in the country, in each area.

Now there was so much information to look at that the census office began staying open the full ten years just to count it all.  The work of processing this data kept the temporary Census Office open almost all the time between each census. President Theodore Roosevelt asked Congress to make it a permanent agency in 1902.

So now, an agency that we only had to pay for once every ten years, is open all the time and costs a lot of money. That really bugs some people. People also started getting mad at all the questions that were being asked. As time went on people started to not trust the government as much and they would not answer the questions. So then the government made it a law that you had to answer the census questions. That really made some people mad.

Well, I noticed that this year they asked even fewer questions than the form I filled out ten years ago. They only ask who lives in your house, their names, if you are buying it or renting it and what race you are. There are still some people that don’t want to answer these questions.census workers picture


I have been doing pretty well. All the houses that I have gone to have been willing to give me this information, except one. Even though he didn’t trust the government and wouldn’t answer my questions he was very nice about it.

Remember I said that they use the counting of people to decide how many representatives each state has in Congress, in Washington. Well they use the information for other things now. They use the numbers to decide how to share lots of money with each state for government programs. I am not really happy about that. I wish the government would just handle foreign affairs (dealing with other countries) and stuff like that and let each state handle their own business.

Family Genealogy tree picture

Family Genealogy Tree

They also use the information from the census in genealogy work. You can look at old census records and it gives names of families. Sometimes you can find your relatives this way. That is a very good thing. It is interesting that the information I am collecting this year won’t be made public for 72 years. So I will never be able to use it for genealogy and you will have to live to be 82 to use it! Can you believe that?

census 1940 picture

Census in 1940

Here is a census worker collecting information in 1940. I was not born then and wouldn’t be born until the next census in 1950.

For a long time all the information that was gathered had to be looked at and written down by hand. That was very hard work. Now we have

machines that do that work. It saves a lot of time and mistakes.

Herman Hollerith picture

Herman Hollerith

Herman Hollerith invented the first electric tabulating machine.

In 2007 they dedicated a brand new Census Bureau building.

us census building picture

US census building

Well Aubrey now you know all about the US Census and some of what grandma is doing every day. I love you and hope that all is going well at school. You will be done in just a few weeks. Tell mommy to look at grandma’s blog and find out how to create a magical learning space for you and the girls this summer. You will LOVE it.



PS Aunt Kate thought that you might like this charm bracelet.


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