Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a genealogy buff, so I was eagerly anticipating the April 1 release of the U. S. census taken in 1950. I didn’t expect to learn too much about my family that I didn’t already know, since I was born in 1947 and was actually around when the 1950 census was taken, but I was looking forward to seeing my name in this one.
Well, it’s there, and as expected I found myself and my parents living in the upstairs apartment in my grandparents’ house. But in the fine old tradition of census takers over the decades, this one misspelled my name. Aaargh! Since my mother was one of the every ten individuals singled out to be asked additional questions, you’d really think they could have gotten it right.
Those additional questions concern education, employment, and income. Mom was willing enough to tell them she graduated from high school, and since she had a two-year old kid, she hadn’t worked outside the home in the past year, but it came as no surprise to me that she declined to tell the census taker what the family income for the past year had been. My mother had a firm belief that some things were nobody else’s business.
In older census records I’ve seen, the census takers generally went from house to house in a fairly direct path, sometimes getting information from neighbors if there was no one at home at one address. This one is all over the place, and not just in the entries for my home town, either. I didn’t catch onto that at first. Fortunately, there are house numbers in the margin, so when I realized that Mr. and Mrs. Atkins, my grandparents long-time neighbors, weren’t next to them in the census, and that Mrs. Prettyman, my first (and third) grade teacher, who lived several houses away on the opposite side of Carrier Street, was, I finally figured out what was going on.
Having found one set of grandparents, I went in search of the other. Apparently, the road the farm was on didn’t have a name, so the census taker wrote a description of the location at the top of the page. There were two other curious things about the entry, too. One really obvious one is that there are what look like several empty houses on both sides of the farm. There’s an easy explanation for that. The census was taken before the Season. There were summer rental bungalows on one side. I remember those. I know my great aunt and some distant cousins occupied two houses on the side toward Hurleyville, but I’m pretty sure there was at least one other house before that. Someone’s summer home? Then again, given the way the census taker in my home town skipped around, maybe this one was counting the woods across the road and the old one-room schoolhouse as vacant lots. One other thing gave me a chuckle. Grampa Coburg owned a gas station in the village. His profession is listed as “gas dispenser.”
While I was looking for my family, my husband set off in search of his. He and his newborn brother and their parents were living with his paternal great-grandfather while his father attended U. Maine on the G.I. Bill. The only real surprise there was that Dad didn’t list his occupation as “student” but instead said he was working for his grandfather, a mason contractor. Dad was another one selected for extra questions and more open about answering them. He said he worked 35 weeks the previous year but listed his total income at zero. He said that the household income for the previous year was $400. That seems so little, but prices were also much much lower in 1950.
Access to the census is easy to find in a Google search (you don’t have to join Ancestry.com), and it is searchable even if it is not yet thoroughly indexed. If you know the state and county where someone lived and that person’s name, you can probably find the entry. It may just take a bit of hunting. Fair warning, though—the search can be addictive. Start with one relative and you’ll probably end up trying to find every single person you know who was living in 1950.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.