Archive for April, 2012

I was very late to catch the 1940 US federal census fever, but catch it I did. On April 1st, the day before it was released, I attended Michael John Neill’s webinar on the 1940 census. It inspired me to finally create a list of people I wanted to try to find before the index came out. Like so often in my genealogy research, my list was by place, not by person. This is (a personal-shorthand-free version of) what it looked like:

  • Elrod (town & township), South Dakota – Enumeration District (ED) 13-10
  • Town of Henry, South Dakota – ED 15-8
  • Township of Henry, South Dakota – ED 15-9
  • A specific address in Cincinnati – ED 91-259
  • Glendale, Hamilton County, Ohio – Section in Springfield Township, ED 31-96; Section in Sycamore Township, ED 31-124
  • McGregor Village, Aitkin County, Minnesota – ED 1-26
  • McGregor Township, Aitkin County, Minnesota – ED 1-27
  • Jevne Township, Aitkin County, Minnesota – ED-1-19
  • North Branch Township, Lapeer County, Michigan – ED 44-31
  • North Branch Village, Lapeer County, Michigan – ED 44-30
  • Norwich, Vermont – ED 14-21
  • Watertown, South Dakota – EDs 15-21, 15-22, 15-23, 15-24A, 15-24B, 15-25, 15-26A, 15-26B, 15-27, 15-28
  • Red Bluff (town), California – EDs 52A, 52-9B, 52-10A, 52-10B
  • Red Bluff Township, California – multiple EDs
  • A specific address in Modesto, California – ED 50-20

I based my list on these major things:

  • Who do I most want to find and think it is plausible I can without an index?
  • What exact addresses do I have that there’s a fair chance the person(s) might have been living in 1940?
  • What areas were small and likely to hold relatives, thus being fast (and hopefully easy) to search?
  • What areas had a high concentration of relatives, whereby searching by hand is likely to turn up many, even if it takes a while?

So that first morning it went live, I sat down with my coffee and loaded NARA’s 1940 census website, aiming to start with Elrod Township, as I had a feeling that between the already small area and the effects of both the Dust Bowl and the Depression, it would be easy to rapidly search. It loaded far enough that I could tell I was right – the entire township was only 4 pages long. But the images perpetually said they were loading, and never actually loaded. I tried again now and then throughout the day, with the same result.

Later in the day I realized that Ancestry.com had apparently realized that people were having so much trouble with NARA’s site, as they had switched from adding the smallest states and territories first to adding the largest first. They had begun adding California’s counties in alphabetical order. While I was waiting for Stanislaus County (where Modesto is) and Tehama County (where Red Bluff is) to be added, I realized that I had an exact address for someone in Alameda. I knew from my research that Earl McAllister had been living there in 1935, when he reported his great-aunt’s death, and in 1942, when he filled out his so-called ‘Old Man’s Draft’ World War II draft card. His family wasn’t first on my list to find, or actually on my list at all – he was my great-grand-aunt’s son – but I wanted to find someone that first day, so I went to Steve Morse’s Unified 1940 Census ED Finder and plugged in the address.

And sure enough, a page by page search of California ED 1-8 showed that he was living there in 1940, too. On page 34 of 36, I found them:

Earl McAllister and family in Alameda California ED 1-8

Earl McAllister and family in Alameda, Alameda County, California; 1940 US census, California ED 1-8, page 34 of 36; digital image from Ancestry.com. (Click image to view full-sized image.)

I had no idea being a commercial Certified Public Accountant was such a good choice for the Depression, but you can see here that informant Mildred rounds off Earl’s 1939 income to “$5,000+.” According to an old article published by the Census Bureau [link opens a PDF], only 9% of people on the 1940 census reportedly earned $2,500 or above in 1939, and most of those reportedly had attended college. Mildred reported that Earl had attended four years of high school but that he did not have any further education. Mildred reported that she too had finished high school, but note that it appears their children – both included here – were partway through college.

With the hindsight of someone practicing historical research, I know that this was nearly the end of Earl’s life. He died in 1946, in the gap time in World War II between when Germany and Italy surrendered and when Japan surrendered. Widowed Mildred lived another 20 years, but never remarried.

I’m glad that my first search was successful, because when I moved on to Modesto and Red Bluff, I failed to find the people for whom I was searching. I found the target addresses, but others were living there. The search itself was interesting and I don’t feel like I wasted my time doing it. Modesto was a booming town, with many people reporting that they had moved from elsewhere in California, mostly rural areas, since 1935. The most likely address in Red Bluff was at the edge of the town limits, just as maps show it is today, and I discovered an employee of the State Highway living there with his family; since the head of household in my target family also worked for the State Highway, I now suspect that my family of interest moved to that address between 1940 and 1942 because said coworker tipped them off to a rental property becoming available. I haven’t taken the time yet to search the rest of the EDs in Red Bluff, and have been undecided on whether to do so. I’m reasonably sure they were living in Red Bluff then, but I’m not sure how urgently I want to find them before California’s indexed.

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