Friday, February 19, 2010

The 1960 U. S. Census

I subscribe to the free version of Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. Most mornings I find a message in my inbox with a list of articles and links to them. This morning the list started with "1960 U.S. Census Myths and Facts."
This particular article was a "teaser" article that provided a few paragraphs. To see the remainder of the article, I need to have a paid subscription.
Mr. Eastman had mentioned in previous issues of his newsletter about the "lost" 1960 Census data. This census is not lost in the same sense as the 1890 Census of which much was destroyed by fire, water and man. Instead, as the story goes, the data is lost because it was stored on 7-track magnetic tapes and the equipment to read such tapes is obsolete.
I have experience in a couple of areas (computers and research) that permit me to say with confidence "the 1960 Census data is not lost."
The 1960 Census data was collected on census schedules printed on paper. The data on the magnetic tapes was created from transcription of the schedules. Since the National Archives had been microfilming records prior to 1960, I have no reason to believe that the 1960 US Census was not been microfilmed.
The story of the census data stored on 7-track magnetic tapes being lost is also not true for several reasons.
First, the purpose of recording the census data on magnetic tape was for research purposes. Many institutions and governmental agencies analyze census data. The electronic data is available to qualifying groups as soon as possible. Thus, multiple tapes were made to satisfy the demand by these entities.
Second, research using census data from any given decade continues years after the data becoming available. By 1964, 9-track tapes were introduced and thus emerged the need for recording the data on 9-track tapes. As data storage devices and data delivery mechanisms evolved over time, I expect to find the 1960 Census data recorded in a variety of formats.
Third, it is possible to read a 7-track tape today. Even if you were to assume that there were no working 7-track tape drives, the knowledge of how to build one is not lost. In fact, I know of a working 7-track tape drive in Silicon Valley.
As of 2009, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, had operational IBM 729 tape drives attached to a working IBM 1401 computer. Several companies manufactured 7-track tape drives, Hewlett-Packard Company being one. The HP Computer Museum in Australia collects HP equipment with the goal to have working examples. The museum has on exhibit several models of HP 7-track tape drives.
There are other computer museums that collect old equipment. I even found a company, Sunstar Company in Los Angeles, that as of 2010 sells refurbished 9-track tape drives manufactured by many different computer hardware companies.
The National Archives was established in 1934 and its building opened in 1935. Professional archivists have been employed the National Archives for decades. Knowing something about archiving, I found the alleged story of the "lost" 1960 US Census insulting to the archivists.
A visit to the National Archives Website revealed an article written in the Prologue Magazine, Winter 2000, Vol. 32, No. 4, "Myths and Realities About the 1960 Census" by Margaret O. Adams and Thomas E. Brown. The article confirmed my belief that the 1960 US Census is not lost.
To read the article, click on this link at the National Archives.
Although I have not read Mr. Eastman's complete article, however, based on the title, I believe that his article contains similar conclusions.

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