Your fitting question brought many memories back to me.
I remember helping my mother's brothers, who were closer to my age than to hers, lower and raise jars of drinking milk, fresh from the cows, which were placed in a wire egg pail which was attached to a rope and stored in the cistern to keep the milk cool. As I recall, water from that cistern was piped into a pressure tank and fed into the faucets at the family sinks and bathtub.
At my other grandparents' house, and most of my uncles' and aunts', water from the cistern was pumped at the kitchen or porch sink with the small hand pump which had to be drained and primed on cold winter days so it didn't freeze when the fire died down at night. My vague memory is that cleaning of the cistern was an annual ritual after the dry season when the cistern often went dry. When a small tenant house was removed from that place, I remember helping my grandmother crush cans and break bottles to drop into an old cistern as a way of filling it and disposing of the junk before the cistern was finally covered over. That grandmother had no bathtub in her house until they retired and moved to town. She used the bathtub as a storage bin, as was always evident. When I reflected on it recently, I concluded that she probably never learned during her ninety-six years what it was like to take a shower bath, or a bath in a bathtub. Pitchers, basins, washtubs, and washcloths served her well enough.
Almost twenty years later we moved with with our children to an small farmstead which had two cisterns near the house which had not been used for years. I cleaned them, did extensive repairs, bought one of the small used pumps, and hooked up the inlet and outlet piping so that we could use the soft water in our bathroom sink. It worked well while we were there. In telling one of my uncles of the experience, I learned that in his younger years he had worked in helping to construct such "milk jug" cisterns. The soil in that area of northwest Iowa was heavy enough that the hole was dug to the shape of the "jug" so that the masonry could be "plastered" onto the walls of the hole, after which the neck rising out of the ground was finished with brick.
The last cistern construction I was aware of in that area was a cement "box" included as part of the basement construction of a new house. I assume it is still functional.
Here at this place I have not seriously considered a cistern. Rainfall is more limited here, about twenty inches a year. Productive plants will not survive the hot, dry, windy season here without supplemental watering, so we need some water source for any garden plans. All the water which runs off the roofs of our house and garage goes to to roots of grapes, gooseberries, flowers, and fruit trees. If I had a strong sense that I would face a survival challenge at this location, I would probably build a cistern. Not having that conviction at present, I will accept the vulnerability of a common water system.
With appreciation for your question and the memories it evoked,