Friday, April 6, 2012

1940 U. S. Census: Following the Census Taker's Path

Do you ever wonder how the census taker went from house to house? Did they go up one side of the street and then down the other? How many blocks did they go on one side before hitting the other side of the street? Did they go back and forth across the street working both sides with one pass? 

Have you made assumptions that the families listed before and after one of your ancestors were their next door neighbors or maybe someone across the street? That may well be the case but it also could be that some of their closest neighbors are several pages away. 

I intended to wait for the index to do any searching in the 1940 U. S. Census but with everyone talking about their finds this week, I caved on Thursday and looked for both of my parents. When I found my maternal grandparents household, I mentioned it to my mother. I'm not sure how the conversation turned to the neighbors, but it did. She was talking about people who lived near them and rattling off names faster than I could find them. It soon became clear that some of their closet neighbors weren't listed especially close to her family.

This map shows the "number of household in order of visitation" from the census pages. #266 is my grandparents' house which faces Johnie Street. There are more than 100 households listed between them and the families directly across the street and almost 50 between them and the family on the opposite corner. There is two blocks between household #250 and #252. (Mom didn't remember household #251 so I couldn't plot it.) #262 is next door to #280 and across the street from #276.

Map of Loyall, Harlan County, Kentucky clipped from Google Maps

I didn't try to plot every house in the neighborhood (mainly because Mom isn't sure exactly where some families lived) but there are enough to get a feel for how the census taker traveled. It appears she came down Mapother Street (#160, #161, #162) then turned the corner onto Johnnie Street (#163, #164). From there she went up Chad Street and hit several other streets not shown on this map clip before coming down the other side of Mapother (#217, #218). After that she was on Bailey Street before moving back to Johnnie Street (#252, #260) and for some reason jumped down to Mapother to pick up #262 before returning to Johnnie Street. For the most part she went in order down one side of a street with an occasional random move that does not seem to make sense. 

So. Keep in mind that the family listed right after your ancestor may not have lived next door and a family listed 10 pages away might have lived just across the street. 

And. If you have a relative who was alive in 1940, they might like a trip down memory lane through the pages of the census. I think Mom really enjoyed reminiscing about her childhood friends.  

And while we are on the subject of the 1940 U. S. Census, have you signed up to help index? If you haven't, it's not too late to get started. This project will be ongoing for months until every person is indexed. You can keep up with the latest news by following the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project Blog

Annotations on map clip were made using Awesome Screenshot.


  1. Great post, I know you spent a lot of time on it, really very interesting!

    Awesome Screenshot, eh?? OKKK, gonna have to look at that real hard. Thanks.

  2. This happened in Gary, Indiana, also. It looks like she went down one side--all odds numbered housing for six blocks or so, then turned, went up the odd side of another street then made their way back to the evens. In this case, the other side of the street was about 10 pages forward.

  3. Linda, this is very interesting. I'm indexing (FS, Kansas) these days, and sometimes see very different block names on the same page with totally different house numbers too... now it makes better sense. Somehow I would have thought that it would have been more efficient to use the postie's walking routes -? Sounds like they re-invented the wheel, here. Thanks for sharing, and the map helps too!

  4. I noticed that last night when I was looking for my elusive Great Uncle Henry. The enumerator went down several blocks on one side of the street and then did the same on another street and eventually got back to where she started but across the street.