Wednesday, July 31, 2013

32 things I learned about my great-great grandparents from the census

The easiest place to start looking for your ancestor's story is in the federal censuses. Fascinating information about their life can be found in these censuses.

Here's what I learned of my great-great grandparent's life just by checking out census records. (Discoveries are numbered in parenthesis)

James M.E. Johnson and Susan Lime Johnson:

 In 1870 James Johnson was (1) the oldest child living with his now (2) widowed mother, Phoebe, in Leopold, Perry, Indiana. His father had passed away sometime between 1860 and 1870. James (3) worked as a farm laborer. His mother's (4) farm was worth $800 at the time, so their property must have been a decent size as it was worth more than many of his neighbor's farms. His mother Pheobe who was 54 at the time, had (5) never learned to read or write, was widowed, but still made sure her boys attended school. Even as a 16 year old, James and his brother (6) both attended school the year the census was taken. James, his mother, Phoebe, and his two other siblings that lived with him, were all born in (7) Indiana.

Blank 1870 Census Form - (check out what information can be found in each census)

 By 1880 James had married his sweetheart, (8) Susan. After they married they moved into a house next door to his (9) half-sister Susan Harrison, and another (10) couple doors down from his widowed half-sister, Mary Wheatley. (Tip: Especially in the earlier censuses, you'll often find siblings or parents living close by). His mother Phoebe had raised these two as her own after their mother died. At 26 James worked as a (11) laborer. He and Susan still lived in (12) Leopold, Perry, Indiana.

Blank 1880 Census Form

In 1900 James and Susan and their little family were living in the (13) "Indian Country". James and Susan had been married for 21 years, and from what the census shows, many of those years must have been fraught with disappointment and heartache as Susan had had (14) 11 children but only five were still living. James was a (15) farmer and lived on a rented farm. Their (16) five children had all been born in Missouri and were between the ages of 19 and ___ (it's fuzzy on the 1900 census).

Blank 1900 Census Form

 By 1910 "Indian Country" had become (18) Oklahoma. Their oldest son, Joseph, had (19) married three years prior to the census year, and he and his wife, Alice, were living with James and Susan. Susan had continued having children between 1900 and 1910 but of the (20) three that were born only one more survived. In total, she had had 14 children, with only 6 living. It looks like James was trying his luck in a new venture, by this year James and his son Joseph (21!! My favorite discovery)  owned and operated a Billiard Hall.

Blank 1910 Census Form

In 1920 I cannot find James and Susan in the census. It could be that they were traveling to California as they were living in California by 1930.

Blank 1920 Census Form

By 1930 James and Susan had settled in (22) Orange, California. James was now 76 and Susan 70. They lived on a (23) farm and paid (24) $10 a month in rent. They (25) did not own a radio set <yes, this was a census question). (26) Neither of them worked in a specific trade.

Blank 1930 Census Form

Sometime (27) between 1930 and 1940 James passed away. By 1940 (28) Susan was living with her daughter Threasa, her husband Grover Lewellen, and their two of their children, Bernice and Claude. She lived on (29) Grover's rented ranch where he (30) farmed citrus, wheat, and hay, and made about (31) $1500 a year. She was too old and unable to work. This 1940 census tells us the highest education level attained and for Susan she attended school until the (32) 8th grade.

Blank 1940 Census Form

From all these little facts we can see a glimpse into this family's struggles and hopes. They must have had quite the adventurous spirit to have left their familiar home in Indiana and taken their family into the "Indian country" and then off to the Wild West of California.

All of the censuses I've linked to can be found at The 1850 census is also available there as well as indexed lists of every other census. has actual images of the censuses from 1870 through 1940.

There are so many things we can learn from the census. What are some of your surprising findings?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Searching Books on

Have you checked out recently? I can spend 10 posts (and perhaps I will) talking up all the good things about that website! What the LDS Church has done, adding capabilities to include photos, stories, discussions and sources, is awesome; not to mention the ability to search their constantly increasing digital family history archive! If you don't have an account, make one and check out the many things you can do.

One feature that I have recently discovered is the Family History Book search (no account is needed to search). It is a wonderful resource for anyone wanting to learn more about a time period, an area of the world, or looking for a family history. By their own description, "Family History Books is a collection of more than 80,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications from the archives of some of the most important family history libraries in the world. The collection includes family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, and medieval histories and pedigrees."

You can get to this feature by going to, clicking on the "Search" button along the top and then the "Books" button in the submenu (see the green highlight on the picture above), or click HERE Once there you can type anything that you are curious about. When I type "Swain" in the search engine, I get 1,212 hits of books that mention Swains. If I want to get more focused and look for information about "Swains of Nantucket" I get 92 records, including the much desired "Swains of Nantucket: Tales and Trails" by Robert H. Swain.

Not all books are available digitally, but luckily "Swains of Nantucket: Tales and Trails" can be read at home, in the comfort of my own couch. AND!!! if I right click with my mouse, I can "Save as" and all of a sudden I have my own digital copy of the book saved on my computer! How great is that!

What results did you get putting your family name in the search engine? Did you find anything of value to you?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Treasure on a Crinkled Page

I'm sure when my great-great grandmother, Susan Lime, wrote down the names and birth dates of her family she thought it somewhat insignificant. Had she known it would become a cherished family record perhaps she would have looked for a pen and written the names and dates in her best manuscript on beautiful stationary. Even without the fancy, this document lives on. It not only provides the proof of family names and birth dates. Somehow it's a window into my gg grandmother's life - practical and ordinary.

Had I come across this as her daughter or even her granddaughter (with little interest or knowledge of family record keeping) I would have quickly checked to make sure I had those dates correct and thrown it away (gasp!). . . after all with four children and plenty of homework and junk mail piling around my house I try and cut the clutter wherever possible.  Luckily, my grandmother thought better of it (she's as clutter free of a housekeeper as you can get). She saved it and preserved it in a plastic page protector.

Removing it from that plastic is problematic as the paper has worn so thin in the creases that it would come out in sections. At least the content is still legible . . . barely. The zeroes look like sixes and the month "august" is hard to decipher. And, after comparing these dates to the ones I already had I find that some are off by a year or two, and the marriage date is completely off? Does anyone know of secret family stories about running off and marrying at age 16? I'm sure there isn't one!  If you are interested in the information on this record you can find it on my Lime Family History page.

Now, to have my grandmother do the same thing for her family, and you bet I will make sure to put it in a page protector as well! You should have your parents or grandparents do the same thing too! In this age of computers having our family's handwriting is a treasure!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hooked on Genealogy

When I was young, my mom would spend hours looking through family newsletters, censuses, and books searching for her ancestors. My common reaction was a little less than enthused and normally enhanced with a full teenage eye roll. I felt this way until the first time my curiosity took me to the internet to look for information on my own Swain Family line. I had just married and must have felt like I should do something with my Swain heritage since I had replaced my maiden name with my husband's. After punching in "Swain Family Genealogy" in a search engine I immediately found more information than I could possibly sift through as well as a community of other individuals searching out their own families. After clicking through a couple hits I came upon Glenn Gohr's Swain Genealogy page which linked the last Swain my family knew anything about to another 5 or 6 generations of Swains, ending with Richard Swain who immigrated to the United States in 1634, settled in Hampton, New Hampshire and by 1658 had purchased Nantucket Island with his son and eight others. From there I was hooked. I've never been able to verify with hard evidence that this heritage is fully mine. I have suspicions that there are weak links in this chain (see this post). But even still the desire to learn more intensified, and I spent much time looking for census records and information that could help me understand my family more.

During this time my Grandmother had a box of genealogy that was collecting dust. Not liking to hold on to things that she didn't need, and knowing the value of the information she had,  she was anxious to give the information to someone. When she learned of my new found interest she handed her documents to me. She had spent small fortunes on - civil war records, wills, birth certificates, hundreds of letters to and from cousins and distant relatives. The time and effort she put forth and the information she gleaned in just a few years is phenomenal.

I pull that box of genealogy out far too little now. I long to spend the hours at the computer and at the library like I did when I was first married. I dabble in and out of family history feeling the desire, but willfully having to pull back as I try balancing life as a mother of four small children (6, 5, 3, 1). I know when I'm consumed too much with this work as I get snappy and my house does not get cleaned (which is scary with children my children's ages). . . . so I am trying to slowly go through my grandma's things to get them ready to pass back to my aunts who are more at a season in life when they can work to further what we know.

My vision for this blog is to be my sounding board - a place where I write I about what I love about genealogy, the stories I find interesting, the things I learn from my ancestry, the experiences I have, the research I discover, the tips and websites I find useful, organization ideas, collaboration ideas, etc. I'm excited to spend a little time doing what I love in the midst of a lot of chaos I feel, and documenting my own personal family history in the process!