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Ask Ancestry Anne: My grandmother’s story continues

I lost touch with my mother’s side of the family many years ago.  But I have rediscovered the family through the documents on

I’ve learned a lot about my grandmother Jennie Elizabeth Payne and then all of her brothers and sisters.  In 1930, I found her and her orphaned brothers and sisters living together,  her father and mother having died in the 1920’s.  It gave me a whole new perspective on her and what she must have gone through. It changed my whole view of her and what her life must have been like.


I know that in 1930 she has no listed profession, but I know she was a nurse at some point in her life.  Was it during the 1930’s?  Did they the family stay together on the farm or where they all leaving elsewhere?  I know most of her brothers fought in WWII.  Did they have any idea what was coming?

I believe she married my grandfather Howard Turner in May of 1940, so I should find her living alone or with relatives.  In 1930, she is living in Crowder’s Mountain, Gaston County, North Carolina.  My mother was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, after 1940, so I have a couple of counties to start hunting in.  And yes, I will page through the images until I find her.  I just know that there are some details in the census that will help me understand what happened to this family during the depression.

Happy Searching!

— Ancestry Anne

Finding Daddy in the 1940 Census

Robert, Judy, and James Szucs, with John Mekalski (and John Szucs, Jr. in the doorway), c. 1942

I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. As I write this we’re 28 hours from the release of the 1940 census.  Yes, we’re measuring it in hours now.  This is the first census that I’ll be able to see that includes my dad. He was a young boy in 1940 and I’ll find him, his brother and sister, and my grandparents living in Cleveland, Ohio.

He’s told me a lot of stories about when his early years—how during the war years, his family would follow what was going on in Europe with maps, how he got the scar on his arm running from a loose dog, memories of his grandparents, and so much more. The 1940 census will help me to build on the stories he told me, and those my grandma told me—how they were very poor when they first got married and had a difficult time during the Great Depression and how tough it was with three young children at that time.  

Were they still feeling the effects in 1940? I know that by 1940, they had bought a house, and I have the address where I expect to find them. The census will tell me how much that house was worth and who their neighbors were.

Was Grandpa working at that time? Was he unemployed at any time in 1939? How much did he earn? I’ll learn that as well.

Even more than the details on the form, sharing this record with my dad is what I’m looking forward to most. Who knows what new stories he’ll be reminded of and can share with me?

Why is the clock moving so slowly?

Juliana Smith, employee since 1998

Finding My Adopted Family in the 1940 Census

Lou arriving in El Paso in the arms of her grandfather, Raymond Dyer, 1943

It was 1943 when my father became ill and my mother was left to support six little children. At 22 months of age, I was taken in by my mother’s sister’s family. My grandfather flew with me from New York to El Paso, Texas to the Pyburn home and what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. My father never recovered so my aunt and uncle lovingly raised me along with their own four children. They had previously lived in Mexico where my uncle was a mining engineer and I’m unsure when they moved back to the United States. I’m excitedly waiting to see where they were living when the 1940 census was taken. This is the family that had so much to do with whom I am today. Will they be there?

Loretto “Lou” Szucs

(Ancestry employee since 1992)

Our 1940 Stories: Remembering Small Town America

My mom grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, a little town near the Oregon border.

The family home is gone now—replaced by a medical complex—but not my memories of it. As a young girl a trip to grandma’s always meant feasting on fried chicken, making dolls out of hollyhock blossoms, and getting candy from the Penny Wise drugstore.

When the release of the 1940 census was announced I knew my first stop would have to be in the town where I had so many good times. Not only will I find my grandparents, but it’s also the first census where my mom would be listed. To help pass the time until the records are released, I decided to do some online research of Caldwell and came across an amazing set of historical photos, which includes more than 100 images of the tiny Idaho town as it was in 1941, less than a year after the census.

The photos are from the Library of Congress’s online Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the U.S. government hired a group of photographers to travel the country and document how New Deal programs were helping rural farmers. For almost a decade, photographers created thousands and thousands of images of everyday Americans during the Great Depression and WWII. In the words of Roy Stryker who managed the project, they “introduced America to Americans.”

Now, more than 160,000 of these iconic photos are available on the Library of Congress website. While you’re waiting for the 1940 census to go online, why not take a quick trip back in time and search the collection for the small towns in your family tree. You never know what—or who—you may find.

Tana Pedersen, Employee

Your 1940s Stories

Can you believe it’s almost here! No longer are we talking about the release of the 1940 census in terms of weeks or months—it’s only days away! As we sit here watching the clock and counting down, we thought it would be fun to get us in the mood with some of the stories you’ve sent us for our 1940s time capsule. (If you’d like to share your story, see the details at the end of this post.)

We received the following story from Angelo F. Coniglio:

When my parents Gaetano Coniglio and Rosa Alessi moved to Buffalo in 1921, they had four sons in tow: Gaetano (Guy Jr.), born in their home town of Serradifalco, Sicily; and Leonardo (Leonard), Felice (Phil), and Raimondo (Ray), born in Robertsdale, Pennsylvania.

The family lived briefly in ‘the Hooks’ in Buffalo, in a tenement at 18 Peacock Street, where their first girl, Carmela (Millie) was born. They didn’t stay long in the Canal District, but in 1924 moved to a rented flat at 309 Myrtle Avenue on the East Side, across from the La Stella bleach factory. My sisters, the twins Concetta (Connie) and Maria (Mary) were born there, as was my brother Antonio (Tony). I came along in 1936, the only one to be born in a hospital, while our nation was in the midst of the Great Depression.

My father found work as a caretaker at Welcome Hall, the community center at Myrtle and Cedar, and as a bartender at the Magistrale family’s saloon, Marconi’s, but the pay was slim, and to augment the family’s income, in summers of the late 1930s and early 1940s the whole family would be loaded on a truck with other poor immigrant families, and be taken to Musacchio’s farm, on Route 62, just outside the town of North Collins, New York.

There, we lived in a one-room “shack” with cooking and sleeping areas separated by sheets hung over wires spanning the room. We got our water in buckets from the community pump, and used a smelly outhouse (baccausu, pidgen-English for “back house”) when we could “hold it” no longer.

We picked string beans, strawberries, and red and purple raspberries, depending on which crop was ripe. Before I was born, my eight siblings, mother and father worked the fields, and were paid one to three cents for each quart of berries picked. The kids picked about a hundred quarts a day, and my mother about a hundred-fifty, and my father, who came by Greyhound bus on weekends, also picked about a hundred-fifty a day. So on a good day, the family might earn about ten to thirty dollars!

The number of Coniglio kids at the farm camp varied, as some would stay back for school or other reasons. For example, my brother Leonard ran away with the circus in 1930, depleting the ‘crew’ until he returned the following year; and in 1936, the family was a pair of hands short, as my brother Guy had married the year before and remained in Buffalo to work at a glass factory.

Another mouth to feed came along in 1936, when I was born. As the youngest, I think I ate more berries than I picked, but some of my earliest memories are of “the farm” and the other families that I got to know there: the Sciortinos from Efner Street and the Pepes from Myrtle Avenue.


Phil’s friend Alphonse ‘Foonzi’ Pepe remembers that my father Gaetano loved to watch the camp’s sandlot baseball games, in which Phil usually starred. We also met and were befriended by families from North Collins; the Fricanos, Elardos, Manuels, De Carlos, and especially the Volos, who also originated in Serradifalco. My sister Millie met and fell in love with Al Volo during our summers there, and they eventually married and settled in North Collins. 

My father is shown in this photo standing by the community water-well pump of Musacchio’s farm camp. I recently learned from Sam and Ross Markello (Marchello) of North Collins that he was assigned the responsibility of removing the pump handle each day at sunset and replacing it the next day before sunrise, to prevent unauthorized use of water by the resident laborers. Because of this assignment, he was called “Marshu Tanu” (Master Gaetano).

After years of scrimping and saving from our three-cents-a-quart labors, Gaetano was able to buy the first home the family ever owned in 1944. It was at 973 West Avenue, a few blocks from Bluebird’s Bakery, and right next door to the family of Calogero Butera and Grazia Asarese, fellow immigrants from Serradifalco.

Sadly, our joy at being in our own home was cut short on July 4, 1944, when my father was struck and killed by a hit and run driver on the corner of West Ferry and Niagara. But by buying that house on West Avenue, Gaetano had provided for his family, and through his work ethic, frugality and passion to save, he had given us all a valuable example that we have tried to emulate throughout our lives.

You can view my famly tree here.

If you’d like to share your your photos, memories and stories about 1940 (give or take 10 years), send them to We’ll add them to our time capsule — and invite everyone to share in this amazing era from the past.

Include your name, email address, plus a photo and story details (names of people, location, year, etc.). Note that by submitting a photo or story, you grant Operations Inc. permission to use, distribute, edit or republish your User Provided Content on our website as part of the time capsule. If we select yours for publication, you’ll be credited as the submitter, so be certain that any living persons mentioned or pictured provide their consent for publication, too.

Ask Ancestry Anne: Finding my grandparents in the 1940 census

One of the first families I will look for will be my paternal grandparents Gilbert Gillespie and Ann Gillespie nee Feazell.  This will be the first census where I will see them married, and my Aunt Madeline will be on it as well.  My dad was born in September of 1940, so he just missed appearing.


Fingers crossed that one of them is on line 14 or 29 and was asked supplementary questions, but I’ll be happy enough to find them.

No one has been able to tell me if my grandmother graduated from high school…the answer should be on there. Was my grandmother listed as Ann, Irene or by the name we all knew her by, Judy?  The story there is her brother saw a Punch and Judy show, and started calling his sister Judy.  And it stuck to the day she died.


Did they own a home?  They hadn’t been married for long.  Did they live on or near Houston Street near my grandfather’s parents? Or were they living in Buena Vista near my grandmother’s parents?  My dad can remember sitting on the porch at the end of World War II watching a parade to celebrate the end of the War.


Was my grandfather working?  What was he doing?  I know he spent most of his life working for Burlington Industries.  Had he already started? Had he been working steadily?  And what about his parents? Brothers? Sisters? This will be the last census record where I will find my great grandfather Wyatt – he dies a year later.


I suspect that I won’t learn anything mind blowing on this census, but I can’t wait to find them on the form. you just never know what new detail is going to jump out at you and make you say “Wow, I never knew that.”

Happy Searching!

— Ancestry Anne