As additional indexes to the 1940 US census continue to be released, I find myself rushing to the internet to see who else I can uncover. I’ve already bored countless people with how cool it was to find my one-year-old dad with his parents in Indiana. As of now, I have found both sets of my–and my husband’s—grandparents, and (of course) lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. The best part of all has been reading the answers they gave to the questions.
For instance, occupations: I expected to see humdrum, run of the mill, every day type answers. There were farmers, milkmen, laborers, etc. What I didn’t expect to see was the occupation of my husband’s maternal grandmother: A fur operator in the retail fur industry. What in the world was a fur operator? I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of one! So I Googled it, and at Careers.org I found out it is a person who operates a sewing machine that sews furs. This, according to family stories, fits into what she did for a living. Before moving to Seattle, Wash., Howard and Elsie Mills lived in Juneau, Alaska. While there, she raised minks, which she then turned into fur coats. By the way, I have been informed that minks are mean little critters.
The next perplexing answer I saw was the “American born abroad” status given to Howard Mills’ mother, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Pittard Mills was born November 1869 in Martock, Somerset, England. She arrived in New York in 1882 with her father, stepmother and three siblings, according to the records I have. This left me scratching my head as to why they would list her as an American born abroad. At the bottom of the census page it states:
Col. 16 Citizenship of the Foreign Born
Having first papers Pa
American Citizen born abroad Am Cit
In prior censuses she has been listed as naturalized. What in the world would make her (yes, it was her that answered the question—thanks to the mark on this census designating the responder) say that she was an American born abroad. Or, could it have been the discretion of the census taker?
The most interesting, and enlightening, finds were concerning the money questions. Thanks to an inflation calculator I found online from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I have been having quite the time calculating the worth of the property and the income of my relatives in today’s numbers. The numbers seem tiny, but are usually pretty reasonable when you adjust them to modern day. For instance, $1 in 1940 is $16.39 today. How ‘bout them apples?
One good example is my mother’s parents’ home in Wayne, Mich. My grandfather, Charles Arvin, built the house from a kit in 1938/1939. It is listed as being worth about $2,000. Today that would be a value of $47, 534.73…well, without taking into consideration “location, location, location” as a realtor might point out. For an annual income of $1,290 ($21, 144.76), I don’t think they were doing too poorly.
Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to have the majority of my family state indexes up already. All I have to do is mine the information, and have a few more “what-in-the-world” moments.
Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.
Looking to pull your own family secrets out of the census? Check out The Genealogist’s Census Pocket Reference, on sale for $11.99 from ShopFamilyTree.com!