Have you ever used census records to explore your genealogy? Arkansas family history enthusiasts “enjoy” the census because we learn so much about beloved ancestors. The 2020 Census now gives us a chance to pay it forward so that children and grandchildren may learn more about us someday. As of the second week of April, about 44 percent of Arkansas households had responded to the required census questionnaire, which this year may be filled out online, by mail, or on the phone. Those who have not answered online by now are receiving mailed questionnaires.
Census Sense and “Censations”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline for census completion has been moved to August 14, extending the July 31 deadline. An undercount, especially of minorities, could create delays in government efficiency. The census information is used to determine federal funding and representation in Congress in the next few years, so that’s another reason to be a “census encourager” to help friends and families understand how taking less than 10 minutes of their time to complete information is extremely important to Arkansas.
Results of the census are not publicly available for 72 years, to respect privacy concerns. Genealogists and historians look forward to the 1950 census being distributed in 2022.
Census information is “censational.”
Prior censuses have helped descendants and researchers understand immigration information, size of family, occupation, age, number of children (including those who died), military information, and much more about our ancestors. The ones from 1850 on, where family members and other household members appear individually, are especially treasured. (Before that, totals appeared.)
In the 1920 census is where you can look to try to determine how the 1918 pandemic of the Spanish flu affected families. Its sweep through Arkansas is estimated to have killed about 7,000 when the population of the state was only 1,752 million.
Other helpful resources at the Arkansas State Archives include state and local newspapers, a Death Certificate Index, some death records from various counties, and digitized Arkansas newspapers at the Chronicling America website. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
2020 Custom Tourism: Staycations, and Discovering More About Yourself
How about a COVID-induced family “staycation” and online research trip in Arkansas right now since many are home working already? We’re proud to say that genealogy tourism – getting back to your very own Arkansas roots – is a featured element in the new tourism booklet from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism. The booklet was showcased at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism 2020 in Fort Smith in March. We can’t physically travel much right now, but we can be enjoying the critical online research at home to be ready for the trip when it’s available. Use rich resources like Arkansas libraries, historical societies, and the Arkansas State Archives online to help fill out the birth, marriage, and death dates in the family tree.
When you are able to travel in the Natural State to ancestor areas, be sure to check out local historical societies and libraries in person. Investigate the resources at one (or all) of three branches of the Arkansas State Archives located in Little Rock, Powhatan, or Historic Washington State Park. You can email questions or drop in, and you may well find fascinating tidbits and key facts about your ancestors. Check for open hours of libraries, archives, and historical societies ahead of time.
The curious and sentimental about heritage during the staycation can continue to take DNA tests to learn about origins. That could help you in any travel planned for when America and other parts of the world fully reopen.
If you want to share some of your own experiences related to this isolation period, the Central Arkansas Library System has an opportunity for you to contribute to the greater history of Arkansas: https://robertslibrary.org/blog/help-us-preserve-arkansass-covid-19-experience/
Paying it Forward With Research on Arkansas
The Arkansas Historical Association’s “Ruffian” reminds us that we can both help with research related to our state and create resources others can use by helping with Zooniverse,“a website that gathers ongoing crowd-sourced research projects.” In the African American Civil War Soldiers Project, you can transcribe information of African Americans who enlisted. About 5500 were from Arkansas. But if your interests are more in natural history, there’s a “Plants of Arkansas” Zooniverse project, a collaboration between the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and other partners. You can help from home or anywhere by inserting requested information into established fields. https://www.zooniverse.org/
While we are in 2020 isolation, we can still make progress by acting with inspiration to pay it forward.
Jeanne Rollberg is a genealogist with American Dream Genealogy and Research who also serves on the boards of the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives and the Arkansas Genealogical Society. She teaches genealogy classes at LifeQuest of Arkansas.