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The Family Neighborhood

My biggest discovery in the 1940 census was something I’d always known, but never understood until I saw it on paper—virtual paper that is.

My dad’s stories about his childhood always included his cousins, whether they were climbing trees (and breaking arms) or racing homemade boats in the irrigation canal. 


My dad (the smallest boy in the front row) with his brothers and cousins ca. 1940

I knew my dad’s cousins must have lived nearby or they wouldn’t have spent so much time together. I just never realized how close. When I found the census record for my dad on Tuesday (yes, it took me a day to finally get access!) I was amazed to find the entire neighborhood populated with my extended family. Living on the same street were his aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. 

I understand a little more now why they’re such a close-knit family—and it sure cuts down on the number of census records I need to search for!

Tana Pedersen, Ancestry.com Employee

So Many Questions Waiting to be Answered

Anna and Joe Dansbury

William Dansbury’s first wife died in 1938, leaving him with three small children. By 1942 he married his first wife’s cousin, my grandmother, Anna Steffes, and had another baby boy. I’m not exactly sure how quickly he remarried but 1940 is a critical year. Were they married yet? Or was my grandmother still working as a teacher?  By some standards she was a bit of an old maid. Anna was born in 1907 so by 1938 she was already 31 years old. I know almost nothing about her life before she was married. She was the oldest of ten children. She considered joining a convent at one point. Anna was deeply religious and went to church every day until she was in her late eighties. 

The 1940 census will tell me about how William was managing his young family. Did his mother Ellen move in to help him? How long was he single?

William died in 1946 leaving Anna a widow with three step-children and three young children of her own.  I’ll never know how she managed it!  I’m not sure when he bought the house my father grew up in but the family remained in the same neighborhood for 60 years.  I can read about William in the local newspaper because he was a policeman. Someone who worked for the local paper must have lived nearby because the boys are mentioned in the paper frequently.  

But Anna isn’t mentioned at all. I think she was too busy working to go to parties or school events. I’d like to find out if Anna was still living with her parents in 1940 and helping with the younger children, or if she is a new bride living with William and his three children. 

Laura Dansbury, Ancestry.com Director, Product Management

Ask Ancestry Anne: Finding someone in the 1940 Census

Help Anne!

I want to find George Canavan in 1940 in Pittsburgh, possibly on 1919 Warren St. But Pennsylvania is HUGE and I don’t know where to start. I’m impatient and really want to find something. Help me!

— Jolene Worth

Jolene,

Help is on the way.  Let’s lay this out in steps, so we can repeat them later.

Step 1: Street Address  Find a street address if you can.  In rural areas this may not be as necessary, but in cities such as Pittsburgh it is a must unless you want to search tens of Enumeration Districts and thousands of pages.

But we have a possible address, so let’s go with that.  First, I look up the address on a map program so I know cross streets.

Step 2: Find the enumeration district. On the 1940 Census home page, you’ll find tools to help narrow your search.  I chose “Already know the cross streets?”  I choose Pennsylvania, Allegheny, and Warren for the the street. Then I choose Rising Main Ave and Lanark.

Be warned…this works most of the time, but sometimes, the ED is wrong and you have to try other combinations. 

Step 3: Examine the enumeration district.Let’s go to Enumeration District 69-712:

First then we need to do is find the image with the correct street. Go to the Image Controls under Actions and Rotate Right so that you can easily see the street names:

Choose Rotate right and zoom in so you can read the street names, and starting paging through to find Warren.


We find 1919 Warren St on Page 12 and find George Canavan.  Be warned…lots of people have been finding the address only to find that the people they are looking for have moved.  But you don’t know if you don’t look.

 

Step 4. Examine the image:

So what do we see on the census?  We know that George owned his own home, and it was worth $1200 and it wasn’t a farm. If you move over to the Education column, column 14 has an “H-4” in it which tells us that George completed 4 years of high school. Column 15 tells us he was born in Pennsylvania.

Columns 17-19 tell us that the family lived in the same place in 1935.  That XOXO in Column D tells us that “Same Place” is a legitimate place to have lived in 1935.

Employment information can be found in columns 21-33.  You’ll notice that George worked 32 hours the previous week (Column 26), he was a Crane man in a Steel Mill and he was a paid worker (Columns 28-30) and he worked 52 weeks in 1939 and earned $1200. (Columns 31 & 32).

You will also notice that George’s wife was asked supplemental questions.  And the circled x next to Alice’s name means that she was the one who supplied this information to the enumerator.

 

If you look down at the bottom of the census image, you will see the supplemental lines (there are two on every image).  The most interesting part here might be that she was 18 when she was first married, it was her first marriage and that she had 2 children.

Make sure you read the image completely when you finally find it!  The information may just confirm what you already now, but the bits of information about education and income give you a picture of the family’s life in 1940.

Happy Searching!

— Ancestry Anne

Ask-Ancestry-Anne: Interesting Tip from a Member on the 1940 Census

This isn’t actually a question, but a comment that might help when people can’t find a specific address.

I worked the 1990 census in the “follow-up” phase where we went back to obtain forms from households who hadn’t returned them.  There were many residences where the street name had changed due to increased traffic on the original road. It was no longer safe for mail delivery or a driveway to be on what was now a busy highway. So the house hadn’t moved, but instead of being 701 Main Street it was now 701 Harvest Drive. They made the landowner move the driveway to the side street. 

This will look really confusing on the census forms because all other houses on Harvest Drive have very different numbers.

— Deb

Thanks Deb for sharing.  You just never know what twist you might run into on your search.

Happy searching!

— Ancestry Anne

Three Days Lost in 1940

Wow, it’s been a busy three days! I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a blast exploring he 1940s neighborhoods where my ancestor lived. While it’s really nice to have an index, the good thing about browsing and using enumeration district maps is the opportunity to really get to know the places where they lived. This kind of knowledge can pay big dividends down the road.

As I’ve helped many of you in our daily Live Look-ups on Livestream, I’ve also been able to explore some of your ancestors’ neighborhoods. As I’ve done so, we’ve had some challenges with some searches, so I thought I’d share some tips I’ve found useful.

Print and/or Edit Maps

Sometimes the Enumeration District Maps aren’t the easiest to read. In one case I took a screen shot that I saved as a JPG file, and used my photo editing program to lighten and darken maps with some degree of success.

I’ve also used screen shot editing programs to grab portions of maps and add lines, circles, and arrows where the edges of the enumeration district (ED) are not distinct. This gives me a better picture of what streets are in the area where I’m searching, where I expect the address to fall, and when I’m getting close while I’m browsing census images. Here’s one example I used when I was helping a friend pin down an address.

I used a contemporary map to try to pin down approximately where the address she was looking for would fall and used red lines to highlight the sometimes hard to follow edges of the ED.

In another case, I was helping someone in our Live Look-Up sessions on Livestream (archived versions are here-scroll down past the viewer and click on them) who couldn’t find his great-grandparents’ block enumerated in the ED it was supposed to fall in. I thought I would see if tracing the route he took would help. As it turned, it looks like this enumerator did not complete his appointed route (clearly he wasn’t a mailman in his other job). It looks like several blocks were not completed.

Browsing Images on Ancestry.com

I’m loving the new image viewer and all the things that you can do with it. While I always go through looking for names when I’m browsing (you may find an enumerator who forgot to note when he turned onto a new street), there are times when I want to just browse quickly, looking for a particular street. Instead of getting a neckache trying to read everything sideways, I can rotate the image by clicking on the green Actions button, then selecting Image Controls top open up those options.

Although I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the images, there have been times when I’ve been less than impressed with the handwriting. TheInvert colorsflips the colors so you’re reading white writing on a black background and it’s been helpful in deciphering some words. You can also adjust he contrast with these tools.

Hope this has been helpful and that you’re having as much fun as I am. If you have any questions you’d like me to address here, you can email me at Juliana@Ancestry.com.  

I hope you’ll also join us tomorrow for another Live Look-up session at 1 pm ET here on Livestream. Anne Mitchell and myself will be in the Chat Room helping as many of you as we can, and Crista Cowan, the Barefoot Genealogist, will be sharing some of her favorite tips in the video.

Happy Searching!

Juliana

Ask Ancestry Anne: How do I know when my state is available in the 1940 census?

Question: More than one of our members has asked: “How do I know when my state is available in the 1940 census?”

Answer:  Watch our status page:  1940 United States Federal Census - Ancestry.com

At the bottom of the page you will see a list of the States and Territories and where they are in process. 

This is updated manually and you will see the update at the bottom.



Even when a state is “In Process” you can check on the status and see if your county is there. For example, as I write this, we have started on the state of Washington and we have a few counties available to view.  If you see your county, take a look! 

I admit that yesterday I was checking often when they started Virginia to catch Rockbridge County as soon as I could.  And I am impatiently waiting for North Carolina. Patience is not a family trait!

I’ve bookmarked the page, so I can check it quickly.

Happy Searching!

—Ancestry Anne