Ancestry Counts: Contemplating Stories Behind the Census
Links are provided at the end to reduce distractions in your reading.
How significant is it to be counted in a census? And what does it mean to be counted?
Being counted highlights the truth that everyone counts equally.
Beyond the numbers, being counted closes the past and present generational gaps of families and households.
The excerpt below of the 1900 U.S. Census record of my fourth generation grandparents has helped to bridge my past to my present as I discover my African-American ancestors, the Waldons (on my dad's side)...
Year: 1900; Census Place: De Roan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Page: 3; Enumeration District: 0042; FHL microfilm: 1240060
These are more than lines of data for the U.S., these are lives that tell the story of my lineage. Their DNA and their dreams run through my soul (whole person).
In my opinion and experience in researching my genealogy, the census has always been one of the easiest ways to locate where my ancestors lived and to identify the dates when they lived there so that I can search other records—marriage records, death records, motor vehicle records, military records, etc.
 The first U.S. decennial census was a simple count conducted in 1790. Are you aware that next year, a day prior to my birthday—April 1, 2020, is “Census Day?”
This is an imperative time to intersect advocacy for the purpose of tracing one's genealogy and for economic and social justice. The census data will be used to make decisions affecting legislation and spending on housing, highways, hospitals, schools, assistance programs, and many projects and programs that are vital to the health and welfare of the U.S. population and economy.
The census also guides private-sector investment decisions on where to invest in job creation, new facilities, and marketing. And the census will always reveal the stories of human families that lie underneath the numbers.
We are more than a number. Our entire fearfully-and-wonderfully-made lives are unquestionably accounted for.
I discovered three census records plus other public records in under two hours at my public library.
Contemplate - The Christ and The Ancient Census
"Now it happened in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the world’s inhabitants. This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Everyone was traveling to be registered in his own city. Now Joseph also went up from the Galilee, out of the town of Natzeret to Judah, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family of David. He went to register with Miriam, who was engaged to him and was pregnant.
But while they were there, the time came for her to give birth—and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him in strips of cloth and set Him down in a manger, since there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-20)."
Beyond this ancient census, the setting and historical circumstances are often either neglected or hurried over. Where the scriptural text is presented simply and without fanciful embellishment, it is absolutely loaded with significance—as it is with every census in human history.
How The U.S. Census Invoked My Child-like Wonder
For an entire week, I have been lifted up into a spirit of expectancy, awe, and wonderment over the discovery of some of my ancestors on the U.S. census. They are very real and very historic. Their lives know the oppression of racism and the optimism of generations to live beyond their era.
As far as I'm concerned, they were not merely counted for the purpose of the government, they were also counted for the purpose of my genealogy.
Standing there in the public library, I was on the other side of history one hundred-nineteen years later trying my best to contain my variegated emotions as my thirteen-year-old daughter, Isaiah, stood slightly off to the side; she was a bit embarrassed by my child-like burst of wonder as I learned the names of the past. The names that run through my veins and my unaware memories.
I realized Isaiah—we call her "Issie"—was concerned that I would draw some attention smack in the middle of the reference research center, but I was healing. I was putting the jigsaw pieces back together of our family. And as I would continue to gaze into her eyes and back to the unfolding discoveries, I would tell her to meet her kinfolk. She would give a half smile and say, "That's cool, mom."
I assured each family member by name that I was here because of them and that I was intent on learning and saying their names, their identities, their stories, their trauma, their triumph—their humanity as Black image bearers in America. No matter what, they will not be erased. We are still here!
I could sense their past bridging me to a greater depth of my present consciousness as a descendant and my solidarity with them as an ancestor.
To contemplate the stories of my ancestors behind the census is to use my holy imagination in light of the generational gaps and the absence of many oral stories. Not only does this invoke curiosity and contemplative imagination—justice and mercy are equally invoked. This summoning has mobilized me beyond my own family to participate in a concrete way for the justice and mercy campaign in the 2020 Census in my community.
Justice and Mercy in Census Counting
 Rev. Adam R. Taylor, Executive Director of Sojourners says: "For example, the African-American population has been historically undercounted in the decennial census, disadvantaging their families, communities, and neighborhoods. In fact, the 2010 Census undercounted the African-American population by more than 800,000 and approximately 7 percent of young African-American children were overlooked by the 2010 Census, roughly twice the rate for young non-Hispanic white children.
Those with the most to lose—people who are members of disadvantaged or marginalized communities—are at greatest risk of being uncounted.
Unfortunately, the importance of the census can easily escape our attention, in part because it only takes place every 10 years and is often treated as a purely bureaucratic process. However, the census has become increasingly politicized and now carries long-lasting and even life-and-death consequences for whole communities and groups.
Now is the time to ensure that every person is counted. You can learn more about how faith leaders and communities are getting involved by downloading the toolkit.
Census data are vital in overcoming the nation’s legacy of slavery, racism, and discrimination. The collection of accurate, comprehensive race and ethnicity data—as well as data on gender, age, and household composition in the census is central to implementing, monitoring, and evaluating many civil rights laws and policies, from fair political representation, protection of voting rights, and voting reforms, to equal opportunity and access across all economic and social sectors of society, including housing, education, health care, and the job market.
The data provide evidence of the disparate impact of governmental and private sector policies and practices, and assist civil and business leaders in devising solutions that promote equality of opportunity and address the needs of a diverse population."
My Contemplative & Creative Approach to Ancestral Research
Since I have been researching my ancestry off and on for over twenty years, I have resources to share with others who are choosing this pilgrimage.
My purpose and strategy for excavating the lives and identities of my people started out with an attitude of gathering facts, which shifted to an attitude of contemplation as I realized that this was part of my vocation (my life voice).
But before I lean into ordering the external work of gathering the bits and pieces of my family, I must first lean into ordering the internal work of gathering my bits and pieces. Howard Thurman's devotional book, "Meditations of the Heart" is without a doubt ordering all of my disordered parts as I align my voice with the voice of God—Love.
Because I carry both the trauma and wisdom within my DNA from my ancestors, it is absolutely vital for me to apply the healing balm of meditation and cognitive reframing.
My Vocational Work Is Many Parts and Unified
In this vocational work of Light—I am both a descendant and an ancestor. I am a teacher and a student. I am a disruptor and a shalom-maker. I am a worshiper of the LORD Most High and a child of the Light. All of the parts of me are unified.
And all of the parts of you are unified. Whether you are on your ancestral pilgrimage actively or passively, you will best stand in who you uniquely are called to be within your holy vocation (your life voice), when you first dig deep and acknowledge…
> How you frame ancestral legacy? (It's not merely a genetic issue, more on that later in the series.)
> Where you are on your personal journey (spiritually and relationally)?
> Who do you think/believe you are?
> The courage to unpack, untangle, and understand the difference between confronting, celebrating, and cosigning the history of your family in your present reality.
> Why you are afraid or nervous to investigate your lineage?
> What is your distinct purpose in the world as a descendant and ancestor from your particular family?
Sit with these questions, let them ruminate and prompt you to jot down your real responses. I also encourage you to download and share the four-page contemplative guide.
I designed the pages of this guide to help you organize and nurture your entire self as you notice how the Spirit of Truth enables, encourages, and empowers you on your ancestral journey. There's an unending communion and comfort in the Beloved as you dig up what's been long buried in your family.
Go to Patreon my page to download.
I want to share the following poem and invocation written to me from a beautiful friend and fellow SOULjourner. The Spirit of Truth has reminded me of my unending communion and comfort in Divine Love as I am tenderly shepherded through my ancestral lineage.
A beautiful tapestry of your ancestry: by Katie Kemp
She’s the one brave enough to weave her families tapestry together. Clearly there are tears that need repair, some hard to bare. Yet her Heavenly Father gives her the grace to patch these places with gold spun thread of his care. It’s in the shadows she honors the courage it took to get her to be standing here. The work of this patchwork will yield, fruit of a legacy reviled and a lineage that has given her the gift of blanketing her descendants in ABBA’s faithfulness.
 Gauthier, Jason. “Decennial Census - History - U.S. Census Bureau.” Decennial Census - History - U.S. Census Bureau, 30 May 2019, www.census.gov/history/www/programs/demographic/decennial_census.html.
 Taylor, Adam R. “Who's Most at Risk When the Census Is Politicized.” Sojourners, 27 June 2019, sojo.net/articles/whos-most-risk-when-census-politicized.
Mohawkmomma Soul Podcast Episode:
Links For Further Discovery
The Sojourner Census ToolKit
Although not exhaustive, these books represent some of the best of contemporary thinking on the topic of anti-racism and African-American contemplative living.
Dr. Barbara Holmes
Andrea L. Palmer
Austin Channing Brown
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