Week 5 – In The Census

One of the first things I learned when I started researching and using census records was to look at the neighbors of my ancestors. Quite often there were other family members living nearby. It turned out my groundbreaking research strategy was not as original as I thought… At an early conference I attended, I learned of the FAN Club principle. The term “FAN Club” was coined by renowned genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and is a research strategy in which one expands their research to include the Friends, Associates, and Neighbors of an ancestor.

You never know what you will discover when looking at a census record. The information collected varied from year to year. The 1870 US Federal census told if an ancestor’s parents were foreign born. The 1900 US Federal census included immigration information. Here you could find out what year your immigrant ancestor arrived in the United States, how long they had been here, and whether or not they were naturalized. In 1910, the US Federal census revealed if your ancestor had served in the Civil War by indicating whether or not they had served in the Union or Confederate Army or Navy. The 1930 US Federal census indicates if the family owned a radio. That’s a fun little tidbit! There is so much information to be gained from Census records other than just the usual name, age, and location.

Canadian census records typically list the wife’s maiden name. Such great information for researchers! The UK census was conducted a bit differently than in the US. In the United States, the census taker went from door to door collecting the information from the person who was home at the time. In some cases, neighbors provided the information. As a result, ages tended to vary from census to census, names would often change spellings, etc. In the United Kingdom, a form was left with each household with the instructions that they were to complete it on a specific Sunday. The census taker would go around and pick up the reports on Monday. They would then transcribe them into their census books, and the originals were destroyed. With the exception of 1911. The household schedules were retained and if you’re lucky enough to have had ancestors in the area in 1911, you will see their signature on the form, and know that they completed all of the information. In 1911 my 3rd great grandmother was widowed from her second husband and living in Bolton, England at 35 Halstead Street with her three youngest children.

I spent a lot of time with my father’s parents growing up and heard many stories about the ‘good ole days’. My grandmother played piano and organ and my grandfather played saxophone, so there were frequent gatherings where friends and neighbors got together for sing-a-longs. Everyone would gather and bring whatever instruments they could play, and the music would go on until the wee hours. They put on skits and held variety shows at the church. They had cookout and picnics and got a little silly at times…

I heard about these shenanigans so often, I felt I knew them all, even though many had died before I was born. I was so excited to look through the 1930 and 1940 US Federal census records and see so many familiar names! Even though I had only known a few of them, it was delightful to find them in the census records. “Oh! There’s Helen Card who was my grandmother’s main scholastic competition. And Annie Remington as a young bride!” I had never known Helen, but had heard plenty about the spelling bee she won. She was the pet of the teacher in charge of the bee, and my grandmother was certain Helen had purposely been given an easy word enabling her to win. (My grandmother was capable of holding a grudge for decades…)

It was interesting to find that my great great grandparents lived on Pawtucket Avenue in East Providence, RI just a few blocks from where I rented an apartment nearly 70 years later.

The 1900 US Federal Census shows my maternal 3rd great grandparents living on the same street in Providence where my paternal 2nd great grandparents lived just a few doors down with my 4 year old great grandmother. The two families were not close and each probably knew little about the other. My third great grandparents certainly had no idea that their great granddaughter would marry the son of the little girl down the street 47 years later.

Looking at the census now as I am posting the photo, I’ve noticed the O’Donnell family living next door to my McKenna’s. Since Elizabeth’s maiden name is O’Donnell, it seems likely that this family next door is related. Is William her brother? When I began my research and first viewed this census record, I did not know Elizabeth’s maiden name, so the O’Donnell’s next door meant nothing to me. Looks like I have a new line of research to pursue! See ya next week with the prompt, “Favorite Name”.