Census surveys are an integral part of preserving our history and defining a country’s collective identity.
Australia’s 18th Census night is on Tuesday, but the concept dates as far back as 3800BC, and in many countries, the details collected provide a fascinating window into the past.
In Australia, Census privacy is heavily legislated and citizens choose if they want their answers made public, which only happens 99 years from the Census date.
But in other countries, like the US and the UK, the entirety of old Censuses are made public.
“It’s peculiar because we stand out,” demographer Liz Allen, from the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods, told The New Daily.
In fact, Australians have a long history of being wary of the Census and suspicious of the governments asking us to fill them out, she said.
“From the very first Census in 1911, there has been documented experiences of threats and violence to Census enumerators. In 1947, someone had a shotgun pulled on them,” Dr Allen said.
It is understandable Australians are cautious of governments recording their information, but the Census is heavily legislated, she said.
“We have a number of legislative acts that protect the privacy of individuals and safeguards to ensure there is no misuse of the Census,” she said.
So while we wait another 99 years to see what Australians were up to this Census night, let’s look to our friends in the northern hemisphere for a couple of chuckles.
Here’s some unique, humorous and rebellious entries from the United Kingdom and the US, courtesy of researchers from Ancestry.com.au.
Funny Census answers from the ages
‘Does as she pleases’: 1880, US
In typical fatherly fashion, Catherine Cudney’s dad stated that the 15-year-old “does as she pleases” as her occupation in the 1880 US Census.
‘Hiding at home’: 1911, England and Wales
Catherine Maud Lovell, 19, must not have wanted to go to work the day her mother filled in the Census survey, as she wrote in the 1911 UK Census that her daughter was “hiding at home” for her occupation.
‘Annoying other people’: 1911, England and Wales
Widowed grandmother and head of the house, Annie Costa, had a very strong opinion when it came to sharing her two-year-old granddaughter’s occupation – “annoying other people” was what she entered.
‘Mrs Halloween Waltrip’: 1920, US
Who would name their daughter Halloween? According to the 1920 (and 1930) US Census, this is indeed something parents did.
According to Ancestry’s count, more than 40 people named “Halloween” were listed in the 1940 US Census. It is unclear if they were born on October 31.
‘Watch dog, looking after house’: 1911, England and Wales
At only five years old, Roger the airedale terrier was officially part of the family’s household duties.
His occupation? “Watchdog, looking after house.”
Quick note, the head of the family also wrote: “Incidentally, we have an airedale terrier. Do not know whether particulars are required, but in case you want them here they are!”
‘Votes for women’: 1911, the UK
Rosina Mary Pott, loyal suffragette and friend of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, sent the message loud and clear about why she wouldn’t be filling out the Census.
“No vote, no information about my household,” she wrote.
‘Travelling Zoo, various exotic animal attendants’: 1911, the UK
Fred Wombwell was a 34-year-old lion tamer. He and his wife were part of a travelling zoo, with various exotic animal attendants. The list goes on and on with fascinating occupations like leopard and monkey attendant and an elephant trainer.
‘Should have been an authoress’: 1911, the UK
Although we don’t actually know what this lady’s occupation was, we know where she had hoped her career would have ended up.
Her Census response to her occupation was that it was, “difficult to say, should have been an authoress but Drane Ltd Publishers who received £35 towards publishing my book went into liquidation”.
Well, at least she was honest.