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?

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog... The Censuses are such a great source of information. Learning Center has four handouts that are really great reading about the Census:

    10 Census Tips from our Members

    Follow Your Family Using Census Records

    5 Steps Beyond: The 1910 Census

    10 Census Questions That Lead to More Answers

    I hope you'll be able to see these links. You may need to just paste them into the browser.

    Thanks Renae...