The census won’t tell your story!

As a genealogist was curious to see what future relatives would learn about me from the 2021 Canada Census. The census, done in May, was completed on-line with 80% of Canadians getting the short form and the other 20% getting a long form to fill in. The odds were stacked and once again I received the short form. Relatives hoping to learn interesting information about me would be disappointed. The few facts they would learn were my name, birth date – but not place, marital status and language spoken. They would also know not to search military records because I never served. That is it!

In contrast, comments about completing the long form include that it took over an hour to do and was very intrusive, even asking the cost for monthly utility bills. Respondents complained about the detailed questions they we asked to answer. Future generations, however, will be thrilled with what they learn, It will be like the fascinating information found in the agricultural census records of 1851, 1861 and 1871 that give insight into the lives of our ancestors.

A 4-generation picture of my grandmother as a baby that was taken 3 years before the 1921 census.

While pondering the lack of information in the 2021 Census, I remembered that the census is not done for genealogists. The census, which is now done every 5 years, is to inform the government. According to the Statistics Canada website,

“The Census of Population provides high-quality information on key socioeconomic trends and analysis that helps Canadians make important decisions that affect our families, our neighbourhoods and our businesses. The Census of Agriculture is conducted at the same time and collects information about every agricultural operation in Canada.”

My frustration abated when I realized it is not the government’s responsibility to provide information to our descendants. We as genealogists and family historians have an obligation to leave stories and facts for them – not so their research is easier but to help them understand what our lives were like. We want them to know us.

How do we do this? How can we tell our stories? For most of us the facts are easiest. We can have birth and marriage records in our file. If you ever made the newspaper, a copy of the article can be included – remembering to always include the source for all the records.

But what about the stories? How can we communicate the fun, disappointments, and joys of our life?

Here are some suggestions that I came up with:

  1. Keep a journal. Insights and feelings about life events will always be appreciated and help your descendants know you better.
  2. Write a short biography. You can include details of your accomplishments and struggles.
  3. Tell stories in vignettes. Everyone loves a good story. My family loves “the grizzly bear almost attacked me” story.  
  4. Scrapbook and tell the story with pictures and words.

These are some suggestions. Let me know in the comments if you have other ways to tell your stories. I decided to spend more scrapbooking my life, writing a few lines about the event in the pictures.  

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