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1940 Census Claims Another Victim

I confess, the 1940 census wasn’t that big a deal to me. I know, I know. It’s an unparalleled document, a single, enormous map of the entire United States population. And it will be a doorway for millions of folks just getting started on their family history, a 10-year head start over 1930. 

But for me, what was there to find? True, it’s the first census that would include my parents, but I already knew what it had to tell me. It would be fun to take a look at see them at home, but it wasn’t going to tell me much, if anything, that was new.

Except, my parents aren’t there. 

I’ve looked through the enumeration districts for both hometowns. Nothing. I found three of my mother’s half-brothers, a family of cousins my dad grew up with. But no parents, no grandparents, no homes, no addresses. They simply aren’t where they were supposed to be—or at least, they aren’t where I always thought they were.

Suddenly, 1940 got real interesting. I know my dad’s mentioned that his family lived part of one year in another state. Was it in 1940? And now that I think about it, why did they go? I know the name of my mother’s tiny hometown—I’ve been there. But there was a second marriage and a divorce. Was there a move, too? Apparently I don’t know everything I thought knew. 

So move over all you bleary-eyed 1940 junkies. I’m coming in. 

Paul Rawlins, Ancestry.com Publications Manager

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

Finding My Family in the 1940 Census

In the 1940 census, I could not locate my relatives where I knew they had to be.  I had their correct address from a 1940 city directory, so I knew they lived at 4444 River Rd.  I had the correct ED and block number, so excitedly I find 4439 River Rd., then 4440, 4442, and then the enumerator went on to the next block, skipping 4444 and 4446!  Agh!  Disappointedly, I asked my mother (who used to work for the Census Bureau) what their instructions would have been if they realized that something had been skipped.  She said to look at the last page of the ED and see if the missed addresses were added there.  They were! 

I just thought I would share this since it seems this seems to have been a fairly common occurrence. 

Grace Yuhasz

1940 Census Confirms Family Legend

Throughout my life my mother reminded me what a very bright child I was when I was very young. One story she told was that at 18 months old, I would go shopping for her every day to purchase a bottle of milk. It consisted of walking down a flight of stairs in the apartment building on Ten Eyck Walk in Brooklyn, and going around the building to a grocery store. After her death, I visited the area in Brooklyn. It is a large complex of apartment buildings known as Williamsburg Housing. Walking around the area, I concluded the only address that fit my mother’s story was 151 Ten Eyck Walk. It had a convenience store attached to it, and from a second story apartment it would be possible for my mother to follow me as I walked around the building. 

The 1940 census was released Monday and by the evening, Ancestry.com had New York State on its website. I went to the enumeration district that included Williamsburg Housing and there was the Mokotoff family—address 151 Ten Eyck Walk. Furthermore, judging from the position in the list of families, it was likely that we lived on the second floor. 

Gary Mokotoff
Avotaynu.com

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