Time-Travel with Dad

Hand punching machine, Census

Have you checked out the 1940 US census yet? Waiting for the rush to subside, or the index to be completed? I thought I would do that too…then I found out Indiana was up and available on Ancestry.com by 1 p.m., day one. This news made me rush to my computer and start looking.

Luckily for me, I knew the cities and townships in Indiana where my family lived. Plus, they were living in small communities that had few enumeration districts. In my dad’s home town there were 12 enumeration districts, averaging a couple dozen pages each. On the other hand, my grandfather’s parents’ enumeration cistrict consisted of 12 pages and included their entire township.

I found my dad while sitting down to my morning tea after feeding my boys breakfast. This is the time I check email, use Facebook, and ponder my schedule for the day. (Sounds organized huh? Yeah, don’t let it fool you; there are usually at least three arguments I have to settle and a shoe to find before it’s over.) I was so excited when I read their names that I reached for the phone to call him. Then I realized it was 5 a.m. there. He would not be too pleased if I had called at that hour, even if he most likely was already awake. So I waited until 8 a.m. his time.

He was interested, but not nearly excited as I was that I had found him on the census. I pulled out the sheet I printed off NARA and read it to him as I filled it out. The first thing he noticed was his dad had given the wrong age for Grandma. He made her a year older than she should have been. She was 20 when my dad was born and he was not yet one year old when the census was taken. She should have been listed as 20 years old, but Grandpa had told the Census Taker she was 21 already. Dad told me exactly the area where they were living, what Grandpa did as a metal worker, and told me about all the relatives I should be able to find in the area right around them. Uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends from school; names I had heard before, but did not know how they were connected to the family. Talk about the Friends, Neighbors, and Associates (FAN) principle being put into effect!

In addition to my dad’s immediate family, I found both sets of his grandparents. His mom’s parents were listed at the house I remember visiting out in the country off of US 50 called (Old US 50 today, with a strip mall on it). Grandpa’s parents had been in a house they owned that my father didn’t know they ever lived in. The address was unfamiliar to him, but he described to me where it was in town.

Next time we get to visit in person I will have to pull up the census forms and go through them page by page with him. I can just imagine the stories he could tell about most of those people. Yes, they were at least one generation older than him, but those were the parents of his friends, grandparents of kids he coached, and our family, most of whom have long since passed on. This census is the first one to have still living members of my family on it. My dad, a great-aunt, and an uncle are the only ones left in my immediate family who I can see there.

Photo from the Library of Congress

Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.

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4 thoughts on “Time-Travel with Dad

  1. What a wonderful story! I did pretty much the same thing with my mother’s family in Maine on day 1 however, she’s passed and I couldn’t share it with her. When New Jersey came out, I printed off the page for my father. Since he was adopted by his mother’s second husband between 1930 and 1940 it was a very interesting comparison. I’m so grateful to be able to access these records!

  2. It was a great feeling! Unfortunatly the rest of the family won’t be so easy…. Darn them for living in large population areas.

  3. I’ve had to look up 19 districts for 84th street in Manhattan and can’t find my father and grandparents anywhere. My father was a baby in 1940 and thinks that his parents may have been afraid to “cooperate” with the census being that they were German immigrants in the middle of WW2. Once I can search alphabetically I’m hoping I’ll find them someplace…

  4. This census was just before my time and adds those little tidbits that I find so interesting. I found Mom & Dad were living with her parents, which I didn’t know, apparently while building house where I was to be born. It’s great.

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