Early Finds in the 1940 Census

With the release of the 1940 census earlier this week, I eagerly attacked several branches of my family tree. I quickly found all four of my grandparents, just a few years before they each got married; I’m sure those finds will be explored in future blog entries, but with this post, I’d like to focus on my wife’s family.

Much like my family has ties to Chicago, my wife’s family has equally deep roots in Detroit. According to the 1940 Detroit city directory, Edwin & Evelyn Barnowske lived at 3620 Mack Avenue, just south of Gratiot Avenue on the city’s east side. Using Steve Morse’s excellent One-Step guide, I was able to quickly determine that that Detroit address could be found in ED 84-687 in the 1940 Census for Michigan. As luck would have it, the first page of that enumeration district lists Edwin Barnowske and family, including my future father-in-law. Here is a cropped census image highlighting the family:

1940 Census, MI, Wayne Co, Detroit, ED 84-687, p. 1A.

An added bonus to this census entry is the fact that Edwin’s daughter, Geraldine, was one of the lucky supplementals found at the bottom of the page. Let’s take a closer look at that section:

1940 Census, MI, Wayne Co, Detroit, ED 84-687, p. 1A.

Instead of properly listing the birthplace of Geraldine’s mother and father, the enumerator erroneously wrote down their names, including her mother’s maiden name (Gleiser). He must have realized the mistake, crossed out the names, and then wrote in the correct information: Michigan. Although it was information I already had, I’m happy for the mistake!

The mother’s maiden name is a clue I would not have expected to find. As a genealogy librarian, I’ve seen too many researchers dismiss the census as a source they’ve already looked at or as something that can’t shed any more light on their family. On the contrary, as this Barnowske example has shown. One never knows what will be revealed on the pages: maiden names, a mother or father-in-law living in the household, naturalization status, or some other important clue. In this example, the mother’s maiden name, although included in error, could have been a critical piece of information in my research, potentially leading me to dozens of other sources.

As my research continues with the 1940 Census, I look forward to reconnecting with familiar ancestors, discovering new ones, and perhaps stumbling across additional unexpected or surprising clues.

“Removing” the 1890 Gap – City Directories

One of the big thrills of research is the unexpected information revealed in unexpected places. City directories remain one of my favorite sources, but they are of particular value during the 1890 gap, that time period of frustration for many of us; with the loss of the 1890 Census, researchers are often left with a wide 20-year chasm in their research, during a critical period in American immigration, industrial, and social history.

Treasure troves of fantastic local historical information, including listings of local business, Grand Army of the Republic posts, public buildings, cemeteries, churches, ward boundaries, street guides, schools, advertisements, fraternal societies, and, of course, names, directories can place residents in urban communities, usually on an annual or biennial basis. Many of the directories from across the United States, roughly between 1861 and 1921, can be found online at the subscription database Fold3.

Each named entry typically includes an address, occupation, and in some cases the name of a deceased spouse. In addition to the important information above, directories for certain (not all, unfortunately) cities also include death dates for the recently deceased. Here is an example from p. 1298 of the 1890 directory for Boston, published by Sampson, Murdock, & Co.:

Bernard H. Vandenacker, 1890 Boston city directory

Other cities that have this death date information, and there undoubtedly are others, include Detroit (MI), Grand Rapids (MI), Jackson (MI), Minneapolis (MN), Providence (RI), and Toledo (OH).

Perhaps more revealing than the death information, however, are the “Removed to” entries found in the same directories, which show where residents have relocated to, whether it be a neighboring county or a far-away community across the country. Given the wide timeline gap presented by the loss of the 1890 Census, identifying that an ancestor moved, and where, is of great importance.

Here is a snip for a Miss Julia Bell from p. 77 of the 1890 Jackson, Michigan city directory, published by R. L. Polk.

Miss Julia R. Bell, 1890 Jackson (MI) city directory

For Miss Bell, who perhaps had married by the 1900 Census, this directory offers a vital clue for a researcher tracking down her whereabouts during the 1890 time period. Chicago is a good distance from Jackson, and knowing where to focus the research is critical to success. Using the directories from the cities listed above, perhaps you, too, can find those unexpected clues in familiar resources.