A Census Taker’s Lament

A census taker canvassed this Lincoln neighborhood in 1910. NSHS RG0716-45-1

A census taker canvassed this Lincoln neighborhood in 1910. NSHS RG0716-45-1

In 1880 Omaha’s third ward included the heart of the city’s gambling and vice. The notorious character of the district created unique problems for federal census takers there. One census worker complained to the Omaha Daily Bee on June 8, 1880, that he was greatly frustrated by “the deplorable obtuseness” of many of the people he interviewed.

“‘I have,’ said he, ‘oftentimes much trouble in making them understand the nature and necessity of a census. They are very suspicious, and imagine that I am an informer of some kind, in the employ of the police, or, at best, an agent of some sort. I meet with many abusive people, and am frequently insulted and loaded with epithets of no flattering nature.’”  The census worker further complained that some people he interviewed claimed not to know where they were born or how old they were.

Read the rest of a Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website to learn why the third ward in 1880 seemed to have so many dressmakers. Check here for a list of state and federal census records, including those from 1880, at the NSHS. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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