Ryan Taylor Census 2006
Census 2006


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By Ryan Taylor

It's census time.

I hope everyone will fill out their census forms completely and accurately, and zip them back to the government. It's a legal requirement, but you'll be doing everyone a lot of good, too.

The government uses the resulting data to formulate its policies, and a great deal of the exchange of monies which flow from one level of elected officials to another is based on demographics. You know, the feds give some to the provinces and the provinces pass it on to the municipalities.

How does that work, anyway? They like to call it revenue-sharing. My understanding of revenue-sharing is when I get my paycheck and then trot over to Dominion and share a little of my revenue with them. I am told this is exactly the same with governments, just on a different scale.

But family historians have a big stake in this census too.

The old censuses, the ones that are publicly available for scrutiny (1851-1911) are a basic tool in genealogy. Beginners who don't know much about their families can use the information on the census as starting point. You have a list of family members, their approximate ages and relationships. From there you can fill in the blanks.

One of the questions on the 2006 census asks if your information can be made available to your descendants in 2098 (92 years from now). It is important to answer 'yes' to this question, as a 'no' means your information will be erased and lost forever.

The question is there because Statistics Canada doesn't want the public to have access to the census. They have fought every inch of the way to prevent the 1891, 1901, 1906 and 1911 compilations from being released. Only the combined efforts of genealogists and historians convinced the government to overrule their civil servants.

Why StatsCan feels this way is a mystery to me. It seems to be some sort of dog-in-the-manger thing. They have the secrets and we don't.

They like to say that it's a privacy issue-people's identities can be stolen, and so on. There has never been a proven case of anyone stealing an identity from the census. It's an urban myth.

And 92 years from now, you and I are not going to have privacy anyway. Dead people cannot be libeled, and they can't be private either.

But it isn't the negative aspect of this that is significant to me. It's that if your information is erased, your descendants may never be able to find you. And if they care enough to look, they'll be sorry to miss you.

I was reminded of this today when I accidentally solved a longstanding genealogical mystery. I noticed a woman named Sarah Mountain lying in Pontypool cemetery next to her husband, Sam Malley. The Malleys were old friends of my great-uncles, neighbors of theirs. They were such good friends they were still being invited to our family occasions forty years after my great-uncles moved away from there.

The 1901 census shows that the Malleys had taken in old Uncle Tom Hawthorn, an uncle of ours but not theirs. I always thought it was generous of them to care for him-he died in 1902, aged 89.

But the chance sight of Sarah Mountain's name changed my view: you see, Uncle Tom's eldest daughter married a Mountain. Sarah, it turns out, was his granddaughter. No wonder she looked after him.

And no wonder the Malleys were still coming to our family parties in the 1960s. They were family too. And I wouldn't have known it if it weren't for the census.

Let them keep your data and make it public in 2098. You'll make a genealogist happy.

Posted May 16, 2006
Column copyright © 2006 Ryan Taylor

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