Someone representing the U.S. Census Bureau contacted me a few months ago to talk about the 2010 Census. More messages followed, persistently seeking to pass along information about the once-in-a-decade event culminating on National Census Day, April 1.

I was curious about how the census counts military families, particularly those of us living overseas, so I scheduled an interview. When the day came, I was introduced via teleconference, not to one or two, but three Census Bureau representatives, assembled to tell me how military families are counted.

On the line were Annetta Smith, Assistant Division Chief in Decennial Management for the U.S. Census Bureau; Karen Crook, Survey Statistician in the Puerto Rico and Overseas Division; and Robert Crockett from the public relations department.

"(Military families) will be included as residents of the overseas population in this apportionment count," Smith said.

Multiple requests — three interviewees. Just what do these people want? What do military families have to do to participate in the census? How long is the form? When does it have to be mailed in?

"This count is completed strictly by administrative record," Smith said, explaining that military members and families who live overseas are automatically counted as residents of the member’s home of record.

Automatically? So, let me get this straight. There’s no long form to fill out. In fact, there’s no form at all.

"We work with the (Department of) Defense Manpower Data Center … to get administrative records," Smith said. "We will get a count of all military personnel and dependents who are overseas, and we will use the information from your home of record."

Military families overseas are counted in their sponsor’s home of record — no matter what their legal residence, Crockett said.

The census began with the founding fathers, and all citizens are required by law to participate, he explained. Outlined in the U.S. Constitution, a census is taken every ten years and determines the distribution of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 states.

So, let’s recap: Census participation is required by law. We are counted automatically via military records, and we can’t do anything to help or prevent it.

I couldn’t resist asking, "Then why should military families overseas care about the census?" I asked.

"We want you to care about the census while you are there," Smith said, adding that the Census Bureau wants us to know we are counted for apportioning political representation.

The outcome of the census also determines the distribution of about $400 million in government funds, says the Web site,

For that big payout, military members living overseas are not considered, Crockett said. So there is a catch after all. We count, but not as much as if we lived in the States.

Military families back home, like all U.S. residents, must fill out a 10-question census form and mail it in.

When an active duty member is deployed, their families living in the States should complete a census form. The overseas spouse is counted in his or her home of record, and the family in the state where they live.

More information about the census, especially for military families in the U.S, is available on the Spouse Calls blog.

Terri Barnes is a third-generation military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Write to her at and see the Spouse Calls blog at:

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