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Canada Alters Format of Future Censuses

Census data composes the core of most family trees. A census is often the only official historical source that tracks the evolution of the family unit. Thus, genealogists get upset when governments propose radical changes to the way censuses are conducted. Canada is the latest country to propose a radical rethink of their census.

Most countries now run a two stage census. Every citizen must answer the first stage, which lists basic information such as the name, age and address of everyone in the household. This is the information that genealogists rely on to trace individuals and the basic family unit. The second stage is usually given to a subset of the general population so that the government can conduct a full statistical analysis of the country. It is a more explicit census questionnaire that asks a variety of detailed personal questions covering everything from ethnicity to purchasing habits. This detailed second stage questionnaire can be a goldmine for any genealogist who is lucky enough to have access to this data.

Canada is proposing eliminating the mandatory second stage and replacing it with a voluntary second stage for the 2011 census. Furthermore, due to privacy concerns, the data from the second stage questionnaire will never be released to the public. Genealogists in Canada are understandably upset at the potential lose of future genealogical data. Unfortunately for genealogists, no government will spend billions of dollars on a census just to create data for future genealogists. That is not what a census is about. Genealogists are simply along for the ride. In the case of Canada, the overriding concern is privacy for the individual now, not access to personal data 70 years from now.

GenealogyInTime™ tends to take a longer-term view. The advent of the internet means that people alive today have left a digital footprint well beyond the amount of personal information left by most of our ancestors. In 70 years time, the role of census data in a genealogist’s repertoire is likely to be much diminished because we will have access to so much other data about an individual.

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