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Rectangular Image of a Poster that reads "reCount: Facing Our Census Exhibition April 1st 2022"

Teaching with 'reCOUNT: Facing Our Census'

Using themes such as education, family origins, employment, race, and census taking, reCOUNT expands Tompkins County history through six interactive exhibits. Beginning with the first U.S. Census in 1790, the exhibits will trace the development of the county and the census across 23 decades. reCOUNT will inform our understanding of Tompkins County, and position audiences to think critically about local history’s impact on our lives.

We love to bring student learners into The History Center! Student groups of up to 30 can walk-into the museum accompanied by a teacher during any of our open hours (W-Sat 10am-5pm) without pre-notice.

Contact us in advance ( to learn about Field Trip options or staff support during your visit. Below you can find several activities and lesson plans created by the U.S. Census Bureau to aid educators in teaching about the importance of census data in American history and development. 

General activities, coloring pages, and scavenger hunts can be requested at our front desk. 

Opens April 1st 2022 - On display through March 2023

Census Activities & Lesson Plans

Educator Reference Materials & Ideas

Some suggested census activities and lesson plans (teacher & student versions available in link):

Tour Ithaca & Tompkins County To Further Explore the reCOUNT Exhibits

Architectural Walking Tour of Downtown Ithaca

A small black and white image of downtown Ithaca.

Explore our self-guided walking 'Architectural Walking Tour of Downtown Ithaca' tour on the free PocketSights App to explore the architecture of Downtown Ithaca. Follow-up with a visit to our Exhibit Hall for our 'Around the Block' exhibit exploring the history of different businesses and structures that existed on our city block on the Ithaca Commons over the centuries. 

Historic Schools of Tompkins County - Driving Tour

An image with text in a circle that says "PocketSights Historic Schools of Tompkins County"

Explore our self-guided driving tour 'Historic Schools of Tompkins County' on the free PocketSights App to explore the architecture of Downtown Ithaca. Follow-up with a visit to our Exhibit Hall for the 'Counting Educational Opportunities' exhibit exploring how the census teaches us about education levels across the U.S. and in Tompkins County over the decades. 

Exhibit Hall Displays

reCOUNT asks us to consider who the census counts, and what stories it doesn't capture.

Ask for Coloring Pages & Worksheets at the front desk to expand your museum visit. 

The Exhibit Hall is open Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm each week. Schedule in advance or walk in!

Cultural Fabric of Tompkins County: Where did families come from?

People often use the federal census to trace their family’s origins. What can the census tell us about the origins of the families who create the cultural fabric of Tompkins County? Early censuses provide limited clues. Beginning in 1850 the census recorded each person’s place of birth (state, territory, or country), and later the place of birth of their parents as well.

 From the census, we can learn about the origins of the specific individuals and families who settled here and made this county their home. Moreover, we might also read between the lines: how did factors like immigration policies, economic opportunities, and family influence who settled here?

A Gainful Occupation: How did Employment Change?

What does the federal census tell us about employment in Tompkins County? Initially, employment inquiries were limited to a few major occupational categories. Beginning in 1850, with the collection of data at the individual, rather than household, level, the census recorded specific occupations. In the early 20th century, a few new inquiries about employment were added, such as industry, to further categorize each person’s employment.

Still, the answers to these questions paint employment in Tompkins County with a broad brushstroke. They give us a place to start to learn about employment of individuals in the county and how it changed over time. They also provoke curiosity: What kind of farm did the farmer have? Which religion was the clergyman? What were Yankee notions?

A rectangular image of two women sitting. The one to the left holds a dustpan and the one on the right holds a broom and dustpan.

Around the Block: Who would you meet taking the census?

Historically, census enumerators were sent out every decade to canvass the city blocks and rural areas of their communities. As they did so, they met the people who lived in their towns and cities and observed the buildings and landscape. On one of those blocks is the building which is now home to The History Center in Tompkins County. Here you will meet the people who lived on this block and learn how the streetscape changed over the decades.

A bird's-eye-view image of buildings in Tompkins County with red dots on them. The red dots represent the people who lived at that location throughout history.

Color or Race? How was race defined?

Questions of “color” or race on the census were initially limited to “White” and “Black.” Additional categories were added beginning with the 1850 census. Each new category was added as it became important to the federal government to have a count of specific populations. 

  • 1850 census – “Mulatto”
  • 1860 census – “Indian” 
  • 1870 census – “Chinese”
  • 1890 census – “Japanese,” “Quadroon,” and “Octoroon”
  • 1910 census – Other (a write-in category)
  • 1920 census – “Filipino,” “Hindu,” and “Korean”
  • 1930 census – “Negro” and “Mexican”

A rectangular image of the Age, Sex, and Color categories on a census. The color categories specifies "White, black or mulatto"

Counting Educational Opportunities: What can we learn from the census?

A small rectangular image of the alphabet. Each letter is accompanied by a word beginning with that letter and an image of the word. It reads "A album B bat C cat D ducks E eggs F fan G grate H hat  In Jail K keg L letters M mug N nuts O ostrich P pigs Q quart R ring S slippers T tub Umbrella V volumes W wharf [rest unreadable]"

Historically the U.S. population census gathered information about school attendance, literacy—whether the person could read and write—and educational attainment. The specific questions asked on the census changed over the decades. While school attendance was a constant, the literacy question shifted over time before being replaced in 1940 with that of “highest grade of school completed.”

While we can learn about the school attendance and literacy of the people of Tompkins County from the census, the census merely provides a start, tempting us with more questions than answers. Where did people attend school? What were they taught? What else impacted educational opportunities?

Through the Lens of the Census Taker: Who’s counting and how?

Who the census takers were and how they took the census is an often overlooked but important piece of census history. Their interpretations of the census instructions and of people’s responses to their inquiries informed the tabulated census data and the handwritten entries on the manuscript census sheets.

A rectangular image of a woman's face captioned (above) "Re-elected by WCTU" and (below) "MRS. MARY B. WOOD"

Digital Collections

In addition to the displays at our museum on the Ithaca Commons, we're excited to share the following collections from our Archives which are publicly accessible on New York Heritage Digital Collections

An image that reads "National Archives 1950 Census Explore & Collaborate" 

Our exhibit reCOUNT: Facing our Census opens to the public on the same day as the release of the 1950 U.S. Census, April 1st 2022. The first time these records have been available for public review. 

This population census is the 17th decennial census of the United States. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has digitized and will provide free online access to the 1950 Census population schedules for U.S. states and territories, enumeration district maps, and enumeration district descriptions.  

Use to Explore Ithaca Neighborhoods

HistoryForge is an innovative digital history project combining maps, archival records, and census data that allows any community to explore its local history through the individuals who lived there and the buildings and neighborhoods they lived in.  

Our pilot project began in 2016 and focuses on exploring the history of Ithaca, New York in the late 19th and early 20th century using interactive search functions which allow users to find information on historic maps about people and places.

Ithaca HistoryForge includes over 70,000 digitized census records of Ithacan's from 1910-1940, and is in the process of adding tens of thousands of building records to the database. 

By searching the database using the "Race" filter on different census years you can see where Black neighborhoods existed in the City of Ithaca. 

An image of a HistoryForge map that displays several red dots.

Each red dot references a self-identified Black individual or family living in the building in the 1930 census. The area shown is the Southside Neighborhood. You can see the names, ages, professions and more of each individual by exploring their census records

HistoryForge for Kids!

We know research databases can be a little overwhelming to jump into, so we've created some research activities for ages 8 and up to help them get familiar with how to use HistoryForge.

Download the activities by clicking on the pictures and contact with any questions. 

Download the complete History at Home Activity Sets here

           A small image of the "All About Tommy" History at Home activity set.                 A small image of the "The Ithaca Kitty" History at Home Activity Set

Physical Address

Located inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

110 North Tioga Street

(On the Ithaca Commons) 

Ithaca NY, 14850 USA

Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Territory


Exhibit Hall Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm - CLOSED Sun-Tues

Cornell Local History Research Library & Archives - By appointment only. Please contact


Email: Refer to Contact page for individual emails, General inquiries to

Phone: 607-273-8284


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