Monday, February 16, 2015

What Did It Take to Become a Census Enumerator?

My great, great grandfather, Augustus L Merrill (or A. L. Merrill), was a census taker in 1900. In 1910, he was a census supervisor overseeing 4 counties and 180 enumerators in north central Pennsylvania.

1900 Census for Lock Haven, Clinton County, Pennsylvania
Augustus L. Merrill, Enumerator (image from Ancestry)

What did it take to be an enumerator?

A. L. Merrill Opens Office, Williamsport Sun-Gazette, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 16 Nov 1909,
page 4, column 6
, digital image, (, accessed 12 Feb 2015
I found a fairly lengthy article that describes the application process. These applications would be wonderful genealogy finds... if they still exist. Does anyone know?

Here's the article which is also from the newspaper, Williamsport Sun-Gazette. This one is dated 14 Jan 1910 on page 8 in column 3. It can also be found on


Blank Applications May Be Obtained from Supervisor A. L. Merrill, Lock Haven – Tests Are Not to Be Difficult - What Is Expected of Enumerators

Census Supervisor A. L. Merrill's office is at Lock Haven, has received from the Census Bureau a supply of blank applications for persons applying for positions as census enumerators. These will be forwarded to his list of applicants as soon as possible.

The applications, properly filled out, supervisor Merrill writes to the Gazette and Bulletin, must be returned to the Supervisor not later than January 31, the Census Director having extended the time for filing from January 25, which was the date first set for closing the consideration applications. The test will occur February 5, as previously announced.

The instructions printed on the application form states that a definite answer is required to each of the questions, which are:

“Are you a citizen of United States? If naturalized citizen, when and where were you naturalized?

“Of what State or Territory are you a legal resident? How long have you been a legal resident thereof? Of what county and of what town or city or ward are you a resident? How long have you been a resident thereof?

“What is your sex and color? What was your age at last birthday? Where were you born?

“What is your education? (Give the principal facts.)

“What is your professional or business experience? (Give the principal facts and, if at present an officeholder, name the office you hold.

“Have you ever been employed on census work, either national or state? If so, in what capacity and for how long a period? If an enumerator, for what territory or desk district? (Described as accurately as possible.)

“Are you physically capable of a full discharge of the duties of the Census enumerator? Have you any defect of either sight, hearing, speech, or limb? If so, state nature of defect.

“Do you speak English? Do you understand and speak any language other than English? If so, what language? (Specify languages spoken, as Bohemian, Chinese, Danish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Luthianian, Magyar, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slavic, Spanish, Yiddish, etc.)

“Are you a member of a political committee of any party? (Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ but do not indicate what party.

“In view of the fact that you may be required to take a test before postmaster, state what post office would be most convenient to you for this purpose. (This test is a practical character, consisting chiefly or holding a filling out a sample schedule of population from information furnished regarding typical families, and in the case of enumerators whose work will be in rural districts, the filling out of a sample schedule of agriculture.)

“Are the answers to each of the foregoing questions true to the best of your knowledge and believes? Are they in your own handwriting?

Indorsements [sic] of each applicant must be secured from two representative citizens of the community in which the applicant resides. They must be at least 21 years of age and acquainted with the applicant not less than one year. Indorsements [sic] will not be accepted from any person who is in any way related to an applicant. The indorsement [sic] certifies that the applicant is a thoroughly trustworthy and honest person, of good habits, and, in my opinion, is fully capable of discharging the duties of a census and numerator, if appointed.

Too quiet any qualms relative to the “test” of the qualifications of applicants, to be made February 5, the supervisor has obtained some information from the census director concerning the test of twelfth census enumerators. It has been officially stated that the 1910 “test” will be very similar to the one in the preceding census and will consist in requiring applicants to fill sample schedules from printed narratives concerning census facts. As the rural enumerators are to carry both the population and agricultural schedule, they will be “tested” with samples of both, but the city enumerators, who carry a population schedule alone, will only be required to prove their ability by filling a sample of that schedule.


  1. Now that's interesting! I had thought stellar penmanship would have been a requirement but after looking at so many census records from various places and times, having good writing was obviously not required.

  2. I agree! But, they do ask the question about "is this form in your own handwriting." Maybe there weren't enough applicants? Or, I know my handwriting is better when I'm 'trying' & gets pretty sloppy when I'm in a hurry. Maybe that was part of it? Or they got tired? :)

  3. Dana,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Dana, you wrote, "These applications would be wonderful genealogy finds... if they still exist." You are absolutely right, and never in a million years would I have even thought about them! Surely they must have existed. I think I'll do a Google search! :) Elizabeth Ballard, Diggin' Up Graves

  5. Hi Dana, I've put your post in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week! it's very interesting

  6. I haven't been able to find anything... please let me know if you find anything!


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