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Your Story: 1920 Census Reveals Family Story

My mother was born prematurely in October  1919, in Seattle, Washington. Her mother,  Estella, had been under a doctor’s care for a month prior to death per her death certificate.  Estella died in the hospital at the age of 28, just two weeks after the birth, of complications typically seen with the notorious Spanish flu. The epidemic struck Seattle in 1918, and a year later was still victimizing the most vulnerable populations.

My grandfather was suddenly widowed and left with a fragile newborn and two other daughters, ages eight and four. It was a terrible scenario and I wish the stories of how they managed had been passed down, but my family was not one to look back at a number of painful memories. Most of it was left for me to uncover as a genealogist.  The 1920 U.S. census gave me a surprising and poignant insight into this family tragedy.

The census was taken approximately two months after my grandmother’s death.  It was sobering to see my grandfather and the three girls listed, and also his mother, a native of San Francisco, who must have been brought in to help.  But when I gave it all a more careful look some time later, I was surprised to find there was a second family listed at the same address. It was Estella’s brother, wife, and their two children—ages six and eight.

I have since found and visited this still-existing bungalow. (As your valuable Census Tips indicate, the addresses are noted along the side of the form.) The extended family was living on top of one another in response to such a crisis.  My two young aunts must have been overwhelmed . Their mother never came home, and was replaced by a needy infant and an infusion of family members.  Without the U.S. census, I would never have known about this.  Many human stories like this one are waiting to be found within the records of the 1940 U. S. Census.

Nancy Barnhart