The SAR Magazine

Spring 2019

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

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Page 17 of 47

12 SAR MAGAZINE stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent establishment of the Social Security Act of 1935. In answer to the question above, the 1880 census was not the first census to be "Soundexed." Prior to the historical events just mentioned, tens of thousands of American Civil War veterans were required by the Service and Age Act of 1907 to provide proof of their age in order to apply for and receive well-deserved pension benefits. Researchers interested in the legislation leading up to this act should consult William H. Glasson's work, Federal Military Pensions in the United States (Oxford University Press, 1918, online via Internet ). The question arose: How does one provide an age (in order to receive a pension), when prior to 1900 many states had few, if any, extant birth records? Because the 1900 census provided both the month and year of birth for those enumerated (question No. 7), Census Bureau employees working in the Age Search office (established in 1902) turned their attention to this census first to provide the answers to pension queries. Acting on the increasing number of requests from pension applicants, Pittsburgh, Pa., resident Robert Russell applied for and received a patent on Dec. 5, 1916, from the U.S. Patents Office for an innovative method to index surnames based on the way they are spelled phonetically (or sound). This patent and the licensing of later modifications were later purchased by the Remington Rand Company in 1927, which then applied the trademark name familiar to us old- timers—Soundex. At this time in American history, the national economy was strong and robust—it was the time of the Roaring Twenties. Life in America after the Great War was better than ever. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in 1928 was at an all-time low of 4.2 percent. This was about to change suddenly, however. Within three years of the 1929 stock market crash, the unemployment rate had risen to 23.6 percent! Needless to say, there were a lot of unemployed people in the United States, many of whom where banktellers, bookkeepers and accountants. Recognizing the need to provide a safety net for the impoverished, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act of 1935 and created the Works Progress Administration (WPA). One can imagine the number of questions being raised during a cabinet meeting with the president while ushering these acts into law: "How many people will be filing a claim for Social Security benefits and when will claims for these benefits begin to be made? Meanwhile, we continue to have people contact the Census Bureau needing help with proving dates of birth for pension applications, and by the way, Mr. President, how are we going to get all the people back to work again?" It was at this time, I'm quite sure, that the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Commerce looked at each other and said, "We think we have a solution! We can hire unempolyed bookkeepers, bank tellers and accountants and put them to work in the WPA indexing federal census records!" Remington Rand had the Soundex system and the Census Bureau had a pool of eager, capable workers. This was the shovel-ready project of the decade! Following the 1900 census, the 1880 and then the 1920 census were Soundexed in regional offices under the direct supervision and training of the Census Bureau. Nevertheless, this work was a win-win for our American ancestors and for their genealogist descendants too! Prior to Dec. 7, 1941, government and industry leaders must have seen what was coming. After Pearl Harbor people were needed to design and build warships and bombers instead of indexing federal census records. During World War II, Soundex indexing of census records came to a virtual standstill. Soundexing of the 1910 census would have to waint unit a domestic policy agenda made it a necessity. In the November/December 2006 issue of Everton's Genealogical Helper, Willis Else writes in "Is Soundex Obsolete?" that as early as 1961, in anticipation of the passage of the Medicare Act of 1965, the Census Bureau offices in Pittsburg, Kan., and Jeffersonville, Ind., began Soundex indexing the 1910 and 1930 censuses—the latter of which was never completed. As many family history researchers know, due to privacy rights of our relatives (and ourselves!), the 1940 federal census is the most recent census available to us. Here is an interesting fact: Public Law 95–416, the administrative regulation that addressed the 72-year rule regarding the confidentiality of census records, was enacted on Oct. 5, 1978. Consider this: One could have visited the National Archives in Washington prior to this date and researched the 1950, 1960 and 1970 federal cenuses (theoretically speaking)! Here's one more fact for us hungry researcher: the 1950 census will become avalable to us on April 2, 2022. Everyone, mark your calendars! In conclusion, the establishment and changes of U.S. Federal Census records over time tells a unique story that many researchers may not have known before. Appreciating these changes and thier implications adds value and context to the lives of our ancestors discoved in its pages. Necessity not only drove many of our ancestors to seek a better life in distant lands; necessity also influenced the records that documented their lives. Joe Hardesty is the library director of the Sons of the American Revolution Genealogical Research Library located in Louisville, Ky. He conducts numerous genealogy seminars and has been a guest lecturer at many genealogical society meetings and conferences throughout the Midwest. Visit the SAR Library webpage at https:// . Joe can be reached at 18 SAR MAGAZINE Noted Dates and Events in the History of the U.S. Federal Census 1790 – The first census of the United States 1907 – Passage of the Service and Age Pension Act (requiring proof of age to apply for Federal pension benefits) 1916 – Robert Russell receives first of six patents of an indexing system to federal census records 1921 – Major fire on Jan. 10 at the Department of Commerce building in Washington damages many census records. The 1890 population schedule is a total loss. 1927 – The Remington Rand Corp. purchases the licensing rights to Russell's indexing system and calls it Soundex 1929 – Stock market crashes 1935 – Creation of the Social Security Administration and the Works Progress Administration Post 1935 – Soundex indexing of the 1900 federal census by the WPA under Census Bureau supervision— the most critical enumeration at the time. This was followed by indexing of the 1880, 1920 and then 1910 federal censuses. 1941 – The United States enters World War II. The indexing of the 1910 census slows to a trickle. 1961 – Events leading up to the passage of the Medicare Act of 1965 brings about renewed efforts to complete the Soundex indexing of the 1910 census followed by the 1930 census 1978 – Enactment of the Public Law 95–416 requiring 72-year confidentiality of census records 2022 – Release of the 1950 federal census

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