Sunday, April 15, 2012

He was "lost" in the 1940 Census

This week the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project Blog challenges it's Ambassadors to write a post about someone in the 1940s.   During my search for information on my family in 1940, I began to realize that while I have tons of information on my family, I took a few shortcuts in my gathering of history on one of them and found that I had lost him in 1940.  My story isn't about what I know, but more about what I didn't know, and should have.

When the 1940 U.S. Census was released,  most of us were busy preparing ahead of time - gathering addresses and enumeration districts to be ready for the 'big day'.   Myself, I had two families in the front of my mind, my Dad (this would be his first census appearance) and my Grandmother on my Mother's side, who would be making her THIRD appearance in the census.   My Grandmother is still living, born in 1917, she turned 94 years old this past November and I planned to call her and get the information I needed and I couldn't wait to show her yet another census with her family listed.  

The day of the release was busy, so I ended up calling her Tuesday morning and we chatted for a while on the phone as I pricked her memory of her early adult years.   "Oh 1940, we would have been living on Hoosac Street in Adams" she says.  "I remember because we lived way up on top of a hill and there weren't many houses up there on one side of the street."  I asked her for the nearest cross street - Summer Avenue was her reply.  The family of her husband (Bellew) was also living in Adams, but I didn't ask her for their information just yet, sometimes baby steps are better with Grandma's memory as she can get family members mixed up at times.

Armed with the information for the Leeming household,  I found the ED and quickly started scanning the images looking for her family - funny thing, I wasn't looking for my Bellew family but lo-and-behold the name jumped out at me from the screen and I realized that I had stumbled across them by total accident. Then my questions began -  my Grandfather was not in the home with his parents - where on earth was he?  I quickly called Grandma again:
"Grandma, where on earth was Granddad in 1940?"  
"Well, let me see...  his family would have been living on Allen Street" she said
"Yes, I see that because I found them there,  but he is not in the house with his parents, only his two brothers were listed there, where was he."
"Oh?"   "Well he must have already been in DC, working at the Embassy"
"Wait, WHAT?"

Okay, so I knew that he had worked in DC at the British Embassy for a period, but I did not know when in his lifetime he had done this - assuming (incorrectly) that it was after WWII, but honestly I never really asked.  I knew that my Grandparents met in Adams, married in 1941 in Adams,  had their children in Adams in the 1940s; I knew that he had registered for the Army at the start of WWII in Adams, and that he returned there when he was wounded. I also knew that they had at some point lived in DC...  but I had made assumptions, incorrect assumptions that is. I quickly realized that I needed to make a better timeline for my Grandfather, a man who I had done much research on and had well documented his military history, but I didn't have any "order" to his life.  In 1940 he was lost to me - I hadn't any idea what to think of this.  I'm not some disorganized buffoon, I've been doing this for almost 20 years..  yet Granddad was lost in 1940.   Yes, I am a disorganized buffoon!

So I've begun building his life on a timeline (again), and I found that indeed this thought had occurred to me previously and I had started to make one - I obviously needed to fill in some of the blanks and get things straight.  I have visited with Grandma this week - again pricking her memory for the details.  While I've done this many times before, I find that I always learn a few new things every time.   I still have not found the household where my Grandfather was living in 1940, I am sure he is there... somewhere, and I will find him!

Have you found your family or are you waiting for a searchable index?  If so, I would like to say that indexing is a fun and worthwhile activity for all of us.  The more of us who help out, the more quickly it will be done!  I began a few days after the release, and it's fun to watch your accuracy numbers, and talk with others who are doing the same on the project's facebook page.  Visit the The 1940 U.S. Census Community Project  for information on how to get started.  You might just help someone else who has found that their family was lost in 1940.

Participation disclosure: As part of ambassador program, this blog post enters me into a drawing for a visa gift card.


  1. Lucky you being able to check with your Grandmother!

  2. I agree with PalmsRV, Cindy. How wonderful that your grandmother is still alive and you can ask her questions. It's especially great that her memory is still top notch. I must say I'm just a tad envious of you having her.

    This was an interesting post to read and reinforces how helpful timelines can be. If you don't find your granddad sooner, I'm sure you'll find him after the census is indexed (except who wants to wait?)!

    1. Nancy - it is certainly a blessing to have Grandma and it's a blessing to her as well, having this time to see her grandkids, great grandkids and gggrandkids :) yes, I get jealous of others' finds and miracle hand-me-downs of family items, but wouldn't trade it for having her in our lives. Thanks for reading! feels good to be blogging again - if I could just keep it up!

  3. Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com