Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Meaning of "Finished"


“It is finished.”
The indexing of the 1940 census, that is.
Sort of.
And my laggard state, Texas, is finally fully indexed.  I think of the state as being the slow one, not the indexers.  Texas seems to have had a lot of people with bad handwriting, and I’m sure that was a challenge.  Not to mention some of those loopy Southern nicknames, the type that took root among my ancestors and elbowed out their given names.
When I saw the announcement of the completion of indexing on Ancestry, and to celebrate my semi-freedom (= not working this weekend), I decided to see whom I could find on the 1940 census.  Earlier I had found my mother’s parents and younger siblings in Baylor County, Texas using Morse and Weintraub’s Universal 1940 Census Image Viewer.
Could I find my mother?  Yes.  But I wasn’t so sure that I would be able to at first.  When I clicked on “Search the 1940 Census,”  the only choices that appeared under the state of residence were All, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Nevada, and New York. 
Then I tried going to Search, Census and Voter Lists, 1940 United States Federal Census, and there the choices for state of residence were All, Delaware, and Nevada.
“All” it was, then.  When necessary, I could still use the state of birth to limit the number of results.  And on the third page of results, there she was - Madeline Roberts - living with her first husband, Howard C. Roberts (entered as Harry C. Roberts) and her brother Harrison Moore in Visalia, Tulare, California.  I had not expected them to be living there; I remembered her talking about what an awful place Visalia was, and had mistakenly thought that she, my father (her second husband), and I had lived there when I was too young to remember.  Apparently not.  
I then found my father with his parents and all of his siblings who were living in 1940, including his sister, divorced from her first husband, and her daughter.  Other Brinlees were a little harder to find, because the name proved to be a spelling challenge.  Using Soundex brought up my father’s uncle Austin Brinlee (“Brenlee”), and there was my brickwall great-grandmother, Susan Brinlee.  The column for “Other income” was marked “Yes” - that must have referred to her Confederate Widow’s pension.  And her age was shown as 84.  
How interesting.  Well, her age had been shown as 73 in the 1930 census.  But on the 1920 census it was 50, and on the 1910 census it was 41; moreover, the December 1891 marriage license for her and Hiram Brinlee gave her age as 23.  In a letter appended to her Confederate Widow’s pension application, written on 10 September 1929, she admits “I have lost my age I am some where in 60 I am not 75.”  While most researchers stick to the 1868-1869 time frame, some quote a family Bible for the date of 4 April 1856 for her birthday.  I suspect that date was entered in the Bible some time between 1930 and 1940, and that by 1940 it was taken as an accepted fact.  However, no one bothered to do the mental math that would have made her 52 when her last child, Cecil Odell Brinlee, was born on 23 September 1908 (possible but not likely).
Then there is the problem of my Great Uncle Obadiah “Oby” Norman.  I have found Uncle Oby (born 31 March 1895) on the 1900 census.  That’s it.  I have not been able to find his parents, William Henry “Jack” Norman and Sarah Jane Sisson Norman, on the 1910 or 1920 censuses.  Oby was married to Edith Watson by 1920, but I do not find them on that census.  I find Edith living alone as a boarder on the 1930 census, and Oby was not with her.  I find her on passenger lists going to Honolulu Hawaii on 29 March 1930 and returning to Wilmington, California on 6 April 1930 and still Oby is not with her.  
And the 1940 census is more of the same.  I find an Edith Norman of the right age (40; “my” Edith Watson Norman was born on 2 July 1899), born in Texas, and living alone; she is listed as married, with the “M” lightly crossed out and the 7 added to indicate that no spouse was living with her in the household at the time of the census.  I have tried some variations for Uncle Oby, but with no success so far.
Where was Uncle Oby?  There was a time when I thought that Uncle Oby’s absence in 1930 might have meant that the couple had experienced some strains in their marriage following the death of their only child in 1928 and were separated.  However, my Uncle Bill reported that Uncle Oby was an itinerant preacher (probably Primitive Baptist) and that he was shattered by Aunt Edith’s death in 1956.  So the chances are that Oby was just off somewhere preaching....  But why the heck can’t I find him on any census after 1900?!!!
So, even without being able to fine-tune searches by state of residence, my searches on the 1940 census are turning up some information.  But some mysteries still remain.

10 comments:

  1. Welcome back, great to be reading you again, and a great post at that.

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  2. I cackled at this post. I have suffered the same sort of experiences lately -- "she's where?", "That's clearly a "z" not a "y", "they are listed in TWO STATEs for the same census year?????".
    Greta, we know how to have fun, don't we?

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  3. I loved this part:

    "In a letter appended to her Confederate Widow’s pension application, written on 10 September 1929, she admits “I have lost my age I am some where in 60 I am not 75.” While most researchers stick to the 1868-1869 time frame, some quote a family Bible for the date of 4 April 1856 for her birthday. I suspect that date was entered in the Bible some time between 1930 and 1940, and that by 1940 it was taken as an accepted fact. However, no one bothered to do the mental math that would have made her 52 when her last child, Cecil Odell Brinlee, was born on 23 September 1908 (possible but not likely)."

    I think that's probably highly illustrative that sometimes, our ancestors didn't make a big deal out of [celebrating] birthdays, or that over time and with a fair number of siblings, the year of birth may have been forgotten.

    Glad to see you posting again. You always have thought provoking posts.

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    1. Exactly! Real life, especially one filled with hardships, must have resulted in the passage of birthdays going unnoticed, especially after many years. Thank you for being such a loyal reader and perceptive commenter!

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  4. I see according to Geneabloggers, today is fourth anniversary of when you starting blogging about genealogy. Happy Blogiversary.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

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    1. Thank you, Jim, for your kind wishes!

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  5. Replies
    1. Thanks, Bill - glad you could stop by!

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  6. Thank you, Cynthia - glad to hear from you and hope your research is going well.

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