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I Finally Count, I Think
I Finally Count, I Think

1790 Census Page showing Captain James Wofford.

You try to count for something. You try to be counted.

We didn’t get a U.S. Census packet.  My wife called the agency. She heard a recording to call back after a certain date.

She waited after that certain date, and called again.  The recording said call back after the date that now was past.

She called again a few weeks later.  A recording said to leave a message and a U.S. Census worker would call.

No one did.

No census workers came to my residential structure ready to ask us those ten questions.  I’m happy to answer them. I’m in no danger of paying a $100 fine for refusing to answer questions, or $500 fine for giving false information.

My wife was more upset than me. She does a great amount of research on past census data.  She’s tracked numerous direct ancestors on both her side of the family and my side of the family in each census available.  She found a great number of direct ancestors on the first U.S. Census in 1790, despite the fact that we’re both at least fifth-generation Texans.  

The 1790 census, under the direction of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, counted and identified 47-year-old Captain James Wofford in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, who would live another 25 years. He is my wife’s grandfather many great generations back. The 1790 Census picks up one of my ancestors, 37-year-old Lafford French, also in Spartanburg County, South Carlina.  He lived another 44 years.

We felt the odds were good Wofford and French knew or knew of each other.  In 1790, the state of South Carolina had a population slightly under 250,000.  Now, Spartanburg County has about the same number.

But in 1790, Spartanburg’s population was about 8,700 people.  The number of free males over 16 (one of the categories of that particular census) was 1,852. James Wofford was head of his own militia district, Lafford French was a member of the Robert McDowell militia district.  Then my wife found that Captain Wofford was head of a regiment of 288 soldiers during the American Revolution. One of those soldiers was Lafford French.  It appears they knew each other well.

Of course, Wofford and French didn’t know they’d have a granddaughter and grandson married and studying them 220 years later. The 1790 U.S. Census made this possible.

I don’t worry that one family not counted on the census would affect all future economic planning for this state.  The fact does cross my mind we could be the tipping point for future Texas electoral votes, government grants for some water project or a demographic analysis for a firm looking which market to locate.

Then last night I saw the story that Friday was the last day to be counted. I saw the number for the U.S. Census. I saw the number to call.  I emailed it to my wife. She sat three feet away from me bent over her laptop computer. She pulled her email, read it, and immediately left the room to make the call to the Census Bureau.

English was not the first language of the person who handled the phone. I suspected the call was outsourced to another country.  So I checked out Ryla Inc., a call center service provider that contracts with the U.S. Census Bureau.

 The U.S. Census officially started April 1 this year per statute (no joke). As the Census was underway less than a month, Kennesaw-based Ryla, Inc. and California-based Alorica, Inc., a national and international player in the customer care services industry, announced an agreement for Alorica to make a strategic investment in Ryla. The agreement went into effect April 28, 2010. That means two private commercial entities with their separate sets of profit motives and organizations structures and hierarchies are attached to my census information.

How odd that feels. Confidential U.S. Census information contracted to a private commercial firm, who may have outsourced the call to operators in another nation. I don’t know, but I suspect that’s the case.    There was a dearth of information on the U.S. Census call center.  After all, it’s a private business.  After consideration, I decided that doesn’t bother me.  

The U.S. Census advertises a quote from one of its directors: "No one can get access to census data. It is rock solid secure."  I seriously doubt that.  After seeing the 91,000 documents on Wikileaks called the Afghan War Diary, I know nothing is secure.

 The U.S. Census worker/employee of Ryla funded by Alorica finished the simple questionnaire. She communicated in an unrecognizable accent that a U.S. Census worker may visit our residential structure. 

“That’s fine,” my wife said.

Hello future generations.  I’m Alan Nelson, and I am counted. Look me up. I’m on the 2010 census.