Four Decades Counting Heads - Tackett Brings Back Genealogy and Tomatoes From the Garden



Kathy Clayton

The Ashland Beacon


   People count. And every 10 years, people count people, as Gertrude Tackett very well knows. At the age of 81 (her birthday was last week), Tackett is working on her fourth census, calling on homes to get the number of how many people live at an address.

   “I did my first one when my girls were in high school, so it must have been 1970,” she said. “People didn’t know much about it then. I think I learned about it through the school. I believe this is my fourth one.”

   “This year is really, really different than before. There were three main differences,” she explained. One change in 2020 was the training. “The training is so different. In 2010, we had three or four long days of training, with a workbook to follow. This year, it was mostly done online. We had a morning session with the coordinator, then the rest was virtual training.”

   She also said the method has changed. “They went to using cell phones, not tablets or iPads.” Tackett, who lives in rural Boyd County, said that has led to some issues. “Some areas out here don’t have cell service, which makes it difficult if you don’t have GPS. When I first started, we had very long forms,” she noted. “And in 2010, we had assignments in a book, a list of addresses to find. When we finished that, you could go back and get another assignment. Now, we get a caseload on the phone app. You do as many as you can, then you go back and get another one the next day that’s a different list.” She noted that the census workers are only given addresses, no names of phone numbers.”

   She said a third difference this year was the change in addresses from the emergency 911 system, which renumbered addresses. “One road I was one had a house number of 118, then it went to 214, then there was vacant lot and the numbers went to 400s.

   Gertrude takes her responsibility as a census taker very seriously. She stressed the importance of responding to the census. “The population count is what they [the Census Bureau] wants. The census is very important for every county and state because it determines the funding they get [from the federal government] for the next 10 years,” she said, adding that the money supports such things as roads, schools and nursing homes. The census also determines the number of representatives each state sends to Washington DC.

   She also mentioned that trust has been an issue as well. “I haven’t had many that won’t cooperate, but we did have difficulty with a few. Some are worried about identity theft, some just don’t trust the government. And they’re intelligent, educated people, they just didn’t want to give us their birth dates. But they’d give us the population count of the household. One woman told me to get back in my car and leave. I just thanked her and told her to have a great day.”

   Tackett explained that a census worker will enter their availability into the phone app, then check it every morning for a case list. “Sometimes it’s 40 or 50 names, and you work as many cases as you can.” Considering the current pandemic, she said she has not been fearful of getting sick. “I really was not afraid of getting Covid. We have to wear a mask, and we’re not allowed to enter a house, or even open the door. If they’re not home, we leave a notice of the visit.” She also mentioned that there are rules regarding how and where the notices can be left.

   She’s also had a couple of encounters with dogs. “I really like dogs, so it doesn’t really bother me. But one time I went to a house up on a hill near where I live and there was a dog that seemed really vicious. It was chained, but I was still afraid. I understand it, though – they may have been protecting their family.”

   Gertrude’s census supervisor, Jami Salisbury, praised the octogenarian for her work ethic. “She has the wisdom of someone twice her age, and the energy of a teenager,” Salisbury said. “I can send her to a holler that hasn’t seen daylight in 40 years, and she’ll bring back a complete genealogy and three tomatoes from a garden. She’s the smartest, most remarkable woman I ever met. Underestimate her at your own peril.”

   “I probably won’t get to do this again,” she said. “But I love it, and I love the people. I work two jobs [she is also employed at Big Sandy Furniture], and I’ve worked the elections for several years. What a pleasure it’s been for all these years.”