Data can be any form of information from any time period. When working with data from a different time period, several problems need to be navigated as you decide on how to categorize and place data. I will discuss the problems of working with the 1850 Santa Fe, New Mexico census and some cultural considerations.
The census takers of the 1850 census were working with a population that spoke primarily Spanish or American Indian languages. One of the questions on the census is whether the person is literate or not. The majority of the persons listed were marked as illiterate, but we do not know if that means English, Spanish, American Indian languages, or both. If we cannot determine what language the census takers are referring to, then we need to discount that data.
Another issue is many of the birthplaces for people are spelled phonetically, and often phonetically in Spanish. For instance, Navajo is spelled “Navajoe” and Utah is “Yutaw.” It is important to understand these differences to properly place birthplace. This helps in understanding racial make-up in the area and migration from one region to another.
When dealing with a diverse population, cultural needs to be considered. 1850 Santa Fe saw New Mexicans, Europeans, Americans, Pueblo Indians, Navajos and many other American Indian nations represented. When thinking of how we view data, it is important to understand how people view themselves as we do not want to offend and we want to make sure we represent people in the context they see themselves.