Digging up 1940 relatives

As an oft-times genealogical researcher, I was thrilled when the 1940 census was released. The actual records themselves showed up online in a remarkably rapid fashion, but the indexes take much longer. Ancestry.com has helpfully provided three ways to access these records until those indexes are available. [Note: Delaware and Nevada census indexes for 1940 are already available.] The first is the typical search–flipping through each page of the census until you find your ancestor. Very time-consuming, but somewhat zen as well. To me, anyway. The second way is by knowing what street  your ancestor lived on. The third way is using the enumeration district number from the 1930 census to locate the residence in 1940.

I decided to track down some of my ancestors living in 1940, as an illustration of these methods. It was still time-consuming. I went through at least 5 of my ancestors and 3 or 4 of my friends' before finally finding someone. I was struck by the frequency with which my people moved around. Just because they lived somewhere in 1930 didn't mean they'd still be there in 1940. Usually I found the street and house, but someone else was living there.

The ancestor I finally had success in locating is named Herbert Barnes, my great-great grandfather. Technically he's a “junior,” as his father was also Herbert Barnes. He was a coal miner, born in Lancashire, England. His father and both grandfathers were also coal miners. According to his naturalization papers, he was missing both hands and an eye. Everyone I tell this to asks how he could be a coal miner with such a disability; I suspect coal mining was the cause of this, and maybe part of why he came to America–to escape a life that would maim him. But that's a story for another day.

The key to a quick search in the 1940 census is knowing where the family member lived in that year. I knew Herbert was living with his daughter in 1930 on Beulah Avenue, according to the census, and a Chattanooga, Tennessee, city directory listed him at the same address in 1941. His death certificate recorded it as his address in 1944.

Ancestry.com, in their helpful guide to researching the 1940 census, recommends looking up the address on Google Maps, and figuring out the cross streets. I did that, and found a photo in street view of the house where he lived and died. More importantly, it showed the cross streets. [Note: I find it helpful to search this in another window, so I can refer back to it as necessary.]

Armed with the knowledge of his address (5410 Beulah Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee) and of the cross streets (W. 54th St. and W. 55th St.), I started to look at the census itself.

This image shows the three methods I mentioned earlier. Since I knew where he was in 1930, I could've chosen that method, but wanted to try out the cross streets method first. The image on the left also shows the choices I made, including choosing the cross streets. This resulted in two enumeration districts to look through. In heavily populated areas such as cities, enumeration districts are anywhere from 14 to 50 pages to go through, much quicker than in some rural areas that cover a larger area.

I was thrilled to locate him, there on Beulah Avenue with his daughter Lyda L. Barnes Butler, his son-in-law and his grandchildren. His wife Elizabeth died five years earlier.

I hope this brief demonstration inspires you to look for your relatives in the 1940 census.


Winter Brain Finds Many Excuses

Winter brain has gotten me. I am so not in the mood to work on my work-in-progress, Revival. I'm not sure what prompted it, but I was suddenly seized by a long-dormant desire to research my family tree. See, I was bitten by the genealogy bug years and years ago. My first published work was in Genealogical Helper, on using computers in genealogy. My research even inspired my first novel, Second Death. [Actually I do know what prompted it. I got an email from Ancestry.com that the 1930 census was free for a week.]

I made a huge breakthrough last night, but let me back up a little and tell you what's so intrigued me about the story.

Old Stone Church, Ringgold, Catoosa County, Georgia

My great-grandfather was a man named George Washington Roach. He died in Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1946. He was born in Catoosa, Georgia, in 1880. Despite those towns being in separate states, the distance is only something less than 30 miles. I knew from his death certificate that his father was named Jim, and from census records found his full name was James D. Roach.James D. Roach was born in 1862 in Georgia and, like his son, died in Tennessee, near Cleveland in a place called McDonald. The intriguing thing to me about him is that he seemed to be alone from a young age. In the 1870 census, at age 8, he is living with a family not named Roach. The head of household is a woman named Martha Banfield, and includes an older couple, Christopher Nations and his wife. The key here to me is what happened in the year James was born.

Georgia voted to leave the United States on January 19, 1861. Fighting occurred primarily on the coast through 1862. In August 1863, the Chickamauga campaign began, and the Siege of Chattanooga followed in September. This battle happened about 20 miles from where James and his family lived.

One of the untold stories (or at least I haven't located those stories) of the American Civil War is what happened to the children orphaned by the conflict. James' father, James H. Roach, was alive in 1860, but I can find no trace of him after that census, at least not without going to Georgia myself. And then his 8 year old son turns up in the same area living with another family. I've always thought James H. must have died in the war, whether as a soldier or a civilian I don't know. I've been researching the family he lived with and the neighbors, trying to pierce the veil of history and find out what happened. Ten years later he appears in the census, again in the same area, as a servant of another family. A book on the county tells that James H.'s father David (born in 1800) was “killed by bushwhackers” during the Civil War.

Last night I made the discovery that James D.'s uncle Stephen lived next door to him in both censuses. I don't know why Stephen didn't take him in, although it's possible James D.'s mother remarried and lost another husband during the 8 years he was growing up.

It's easy to get caught up in the research, stretching the line back, finding connections, and forget that these were real people with joys and sorrows and frustrations. What was it like for a young boy to live around so much fighting and death? A Confederate hospital was located at nearby Catoosa Springs. Did his father die in such a hospital? What kind of mark did that conflict leave on his psyche?

I don't feel all this research is wasted. The reflections on family and their lives plant seeds for future stories.

Maybe Winter Brain is doing me a favor after all.

What's your winter brain up to? Share in the comments below.