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February 6th, 2012:

Countdown to the 1940 Census: The Census in Pop Culture

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On the first and third Mondays of the month our guest blogger,  Government and Heritage Library intern Carla Sarratt will be  counting down to the release of the 1940 Census data on Monday, April 2, 2012. 

At the Government and Heritage Library, we’re all anticipating April 2, 2012 which is the date that millions of people across the world have been anticipating more than Christmas or Super Bowl Sunday.  On that date, the 1940 Census data will be made available for public use.  Census data is protected by federal law for 72 years.  Avid genealogists will have census forms of yesteryear dancing in their heads as they try to sleep on April 1 ready to discover more about their family members in the days to come.

Thanks to the TV show Who Do You Think You Are (season 3 premiered on February 3, 2012 on NBC), interest in family history and genealogy has increased in popularity.  Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. will return to PBS in March with a series called Finding Your Roots which will feature husband and wife Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.

Genealogy resources and websites are critical tools for curious family members seeking to know if someone in their family did something significant in history or helped someone famous achieve notoriety.  It’s pretty heady stuff if you think about it.  The Census takes on a whole new meaning when you are able to look at a 1900 Census form and see your grandparents’ or great grandparents’ names along with the names of their siblings.

We recently took a look at the Census as well as its presence in pop culture.  I think you’ll get a kick out of what we discovered.

In October 1940, those wacky dudes affectionately known as The Three Stooges worked as Census takers in a short film called No Census, No Feeling.

Theatrical release poster for No Census, No Feeling starring the 3 Stooges, released October 4, 1940. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Fast forward 44 years to a dark comedy called The Census Taker starring Garrett Morris of Saturday Night Live fame.

Poster for the 1984 movie, the Census Taker starring Garrett Morris. Courtesy of Wikipedia.



If you’re looking to teach your children about what it was like to conduct the Census in 1790, give them a copy of Jacqueline Davies’ Tricking the Tallyman.

Cover of the children's book, Tricking the Tallyman by Jacqueline Davies.

Finally, I am a quote lover, preferring the profound and the humorous and lucked out finding two good ones:

 “Hold it right there. You men from the bank?” “You Wash’s boy?” “Yessir and Daddy told me I’m to shoot whoever’s from the bank.” “Well, we ain’t from the bank young feller.” “Yessir, I’m also s’posed to shoot folks serving papers.” “We ain’t got no papers neither.” “I nicked the census man.” “Now there’s a good boy.” ― Joel Coen, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” — Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs

About the author

Formerly employed with the 2010 Census, Carla Sarratt is a Master of Library Science student at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina interning with the Government and Heritage Library.

This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.