Sunday, June 22, 2014

Census Sunday - Oh The Surprises You Might Find!

As a family history researcher, I've known for many years that I should never embark on the journey of discovery unless I was prepared for what I would find. For the most part, I've been intrigued, interested, and sometimes even a little surprised. However, I had not experienced that, "Oh, I wish I hadn't known that" until recently. Actually, it's been almost two years now, and I'm still trying to process what I learned.

When the 1940 census came out, I remember excitedly going through the members of my family whom I knew to be alive at that time. I didn't find my Mother (Evelyn Frances Wallace Love) until about a year after the census had been out there - and in some ways, I wish that I hadn't. When I finally found her, she was living with her mother and her step-father in rented rooms in a house that was owned by none other than her future mother-in-law! Mother was 21 years old at the time that census was taken on 18 May 1940. She had turned 21 the previous January. Her last name was listed as Walker, not Wallace, and everyone else's name was different in the transcriptions, too. No wonder it had taken me a while to find that little group!

As most researchers know, the 1940 census had different aspects to it than previous ones. One difference was that it indicated the person in the household who gave out all of the information. Another was that two people from the page were 'chosen' to be listed at the bottom with much more information available for them.

One of the people chosen to be given the full treatment at the bottom was my Mother, and the person in that house who gave out the information was my step-grandfather. Oh, lordy, did he ever give away the big family secret!

As you might know if you read the blog post I wrote about my Mother back in March of 2012 (see link under her name), I always believed that my Mother dropped out of school in the 9th grade to go to work to help the family out financially. It was the Great Depression, after all. I was very proud that she had done that because I knew how much she loved to read and to learn new things. It must have been very hard for her to make that sacrifice.

Imagine my surprise as I excitedly perused the line next to my Mother's name to read the information under the column headed, "Age at First Marriage." Someone had written out the number fifteen. WHAT?  I remember reading that number and the heading over and over, thinking that there had to be a mistake somewhere. But no, it was still there and it certainly didn't change. I finally got myself to look at the next column headed, "Number of Children Ever Born." Thank goodness a big fat zero was listed there.

Trying to contain my total shock and, I'll admit, complete devastation and disappointment, I remember thinking that at least I didn't have to go looking for a sibling or siblings somewhere! All I had to do, of course, was to find out who the heck she had married, where and exactly when.  And even more importantly, I'd like to know why! It honestly wasn't until much later that I looked closely at that second column which had in parentheses, "Do Not Include Stillbirths."

I have no idea why my Mother got married at age fifteen. Was she pregnant and lost the child? Or did she (as I suspect) think that she and her boyfriend of so many years should just go ahead and get married and start their own life. Mother was always so mature in looks in those old 1930s photographs. I think the teenagers of that era were impressed and influenced by the movies and aspired to be like the big-screen actors and actresses of the day. My Mother smoked, and she once told me that it was because all of the glamorous movie stars of her teenage years did.

Nonetheless, I may never know the 'why' of it all. I haven't even been able to start the search for the 'who' and the 'where.' I can't explain that. Maybe it's because when I do find out those things, it will make it real, and I don't want it to be. I'm pretty sure I know the name of the 'who,' and I do have a few leads on the 'where.' I'll have to follow through with that search one day.

I guess the biggest disappointment of it all was the fact that Mother never told me about it. My brother passed away in 2008, and for some reason I felt as though she may have told him. They always had a closeness that I didn't share because they both felt the need to 'protect' me. I knew that and it invariably bothered me, but I certainly did understand it. I was the 'baby' after all.

I even found myself calling my former sister-in-law with whom I still have a good relationship. I knew that if my brother knew, he would have told her. She was as shocked as I was, so I guess Mother never told anyone.  I imagine she would have told us if she had known what information was given out about her in the 1940 census. In fact, she would have probably been pretty angry about it! My step-grandfather was as honest as the day is long and probably never thought twice about telling the truth to the census takers.

So Mother, your little secret is out....and your little girl has to follow your trail. Thanks a bunch!

Did I say to be sure you are ready for the surprises you might find?

@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland


  1. I can sense the emotion you felt at this discovery, Carla, in the way you write. Some genealogical surprises certainly leave a deep impression on us, don't they?

    1. They certainly do, Yvonne. Like I said, I'd had some surprises over my years as a researcher, but this one "took the cake!" Thanks for reading...