Ancestry and the Census

A burning question for me has always been “Who else in my family is gay?” 

I'm an amateur geneaologist of sorts.  I've been working on the family tree for about 10 years and have close to 1300 individuals listed.  Mind you, a lot of these folks are sideways branches … plus Ledcat's family and a few other really extended family members.  I'm not particularly fussy about being source oriented. I began with family tradition, found some online census records and went to town from there.  Sideways means I track the siblings of my direct ancestors.  It can be very helpful to find parents who go to live with an adult child, especially after being widowed.  It also gives me access to potential living cousins. 

I've made some interesting discoveries along the way.  I've bumped into all sorts of relatives.  This morning, I had an email from a man who may be my second cousin via adoption.  His great-aunt was adopted by her parents.  She's also my great-aunt by birth. The real intrigue is that her adoptive parents are somehow related to her, but the exact relationship was lost to the ages because people “didn't talk about it” back then.  So now we have a chance to maybe learn about it.  Fascinating.

I also have intriguing mysteries around specific relatives.  A great-grandmother who has no paper trail before she and her 3 siblings popped onto the radar in the 1920 Census.  A family (Lescallette) who immigrated to the US under mysterious circumstances that none of the family geneaologists can figure out … where did they come from and why? 

Old census records are fascinating in and of themselves. The handwriting can have a big impact … my great-grandmother is listed as Elisabeth, Elizabeth, Bette, Edna, and Elsa.  A great-great-uncle was William F, William P and William J on three different documents.  Pryor was Prior. You can imagine how Lescallette has been spelled! 

But there are fascinating tidbits.  Occupations, for example.  Very early documents were sparse, but around 1890 onward the details about jobs are there … the job title and the employer. Sure, most everyone worked for J&L as we are a big Southside family, but not everyone was a laborer … bookkeepers, store clerks, office help.  No one married into either the Jones or Laughlin family as far as I can tell.  LOL. 

Back to the gay question.  Of course, the Census doesn't provide specific insight, but there are bachelors and spinsters who remain in their parents' households through 1930 (the last year the Census is available for free at ancestry.com).  I can also find a few men still unmarried vis a vis their WWII Draft Cards.  That's suggestive, but certainly not conclusive.  Just like our “guesses” about my cousins continue to be guesses at best. 

I get a bit envious when LGBTQ friends talk about their lesbian sisters or nieces or perhaps a gay cousin or two. I feel I'm missing out on that dual connection:  family and “family” if you know what I mean.  The closest comparison is probably how an only child feels when people talk about their siblings.  There's just something about that shared experience which feels special …

Speaking of counting families, it is Census time again.  While the instrument is not perfect, it has been one of the single most important measurements of the presence of LGBTQ individuals and families in the US.

Our Families Count is a website dedicated to the visibility of the LGBTQ community in the 2010 Census.

Here's an important excerpt from the website:

Why should I care about the census?

The census creates an essential portrait of our nation every 10 years. These data are used to determine the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives and provides key population numbers for Congress and the administration to determine how federal dollars flow to the states and cities for health care, housing, and English as a second language classes. Census information is also used in the enforcement of an array of civil rights laws in employment, housing, voting, lending, education, and the availability of bilingual ballots and interpreters at poll sites. The census has a big impact on our political power and economic security.

Since 1990, when the census added the “unmarried partner” designation on its form, LGBT people in same-sex relationships have provided the first visible record of our partnerships in the history of our nation. These data have been very important in countering anti-gay lies, myths and misperceptions about the diverse LGBT community. For instance, the 2000 Census showed that same-sex couples live in nearly every county in the nation, and that black and Latino same-sex couples are raising children at nearly the rates of their heterosexual peers, while earning lower incomes. The average household income of Asian Pacific Island same-sex couples is more than $3,800 less than that of non-API same-sex couples and more than $8,800 less than that of different-sex API couples.

If I recollect properly, the 2000 Census showed that Pennsylvania was home to at least 25,000 same sex households and more than 250,000 heterosexual unmarried households.  That's a very important distinction because most marriage equality backlash efforts impact those quarter million families, too.  And while it is easy to say “at least they have the option of getting married” that may not always be the case.  There are plenty of situations in which economic survival makes marriage a poor option. 

Regardless, it is important that we be counted.  Now the regular census form doesn't ask about sexual orientation or gender identity.  The extended form sent to a subset of Americans does ask more specific questions. The Census has counted same sex partners since 1990, but this is the first year they will identify (and release) data on same sex spouses.  So it collects data on families.  There is advocacy underway to add the questions because it is important information to address federal level concerns, such as economic and health disparities.

Here's an interesting interview:

 

So perhaps some little Kerr descendant in the far off 21st century will learn that her great-great-great Aunt Sue lived with her same sex partner, Ledcat. 

And they all lived happily ever after.  The End.

 

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