From Ancestry Daily
1930 Lifestyles of the Rich and FamousA few weeks ago, I decided to locate some notable people in the 1930 census using the Ancestry.com indexes and images. For some, location was as easy as typing their name in the search box. For others, more creative searching techniques were necessary. Some, for the time being, defied location.
We've discussed the 1930 census before, but this time the method was slightly different, particularly because I was starting from scratch in most cases. (I've included links to previous 1930 census-searching articles at the end of this column.) Census entries for some of the notable people I could locate in 1930 are linked to at www.rootdig.com/1930census/.
Spending a few days locating people I knew little about was quite a learning experience and provided challenges I did not face when searching for my own family. This week, we'll discuss some of the additional lessons I learned while searching for some of America's most notable names in 1930. In general, the more obscure the individual was in 1930 the more difficult they were to locate—but not always.
While this week we concentrate on using Ancestry.com's online full name index to the 1930 census, the lessons discussed are relevant to manual searches of the census as well. When the online index fails to locate someone (and sooner or later it will), a manual search of the census images will be necessary. And those who have access to Ancestry.com's census images can search the census manually at their own convenience.
Now for some of the challenges I faced when locating the rich and famous—and sometimes the not so rich and famous—in 1930.
What Were Their Names?
I had a problem with many entertainers that I do not have with my own relatives: stage names. Most entertainers were not enumerated under their stage names and locating the actual name was occasionally a problem. While most researchers do not have to deal with stage names, name variants frequently present a problem, as does surname anglicization. To locate many 1930 notables I had to obtain as many first and middle names for them as possible and then systematically search for each name. You may have to do the same thing for your family member who has multiple names. Wildcard searches (entering the first three letters of a name followed by an asterisk) were occasionally helpful.
They Moved around Too Much
The less stable the family environment, the more likely the family was to move around and the more difficult they tended to be to locate. Some notables came from families that were stable in the sense that the father had a steady job and there was nearby family support. These families were generally easier to locate. Families who were poor or dysfunctional were more difficult to locate in the census, especially if the children were separated from the parents. These were cases where learning as much as possible about the family and the background were helpful, but even that was no guarantee the family would be located. Being able to at least enter in a state or a county as one of the search terms made some searches easier.
Who Were Their Parents in 1930?
This question is not as odd as it sounds. Some notables were difficult or impossible to locate, as I was unable to sort out their parents' marital status as of 1930 (and sometimes I don't think the parents had their marital situations figured out themselves!). One of the more difficult situations was when the desired person lived with a mother who had had several husbands. Custodial fathers who went through a string of wives were not as problematic, because the surnames of the children could not potentially change with each marriage. With mothers having multiple husbands the surname of at least the mother would change. Children enumerated with the surname of the stepfather were an additional problem, whether the child ever "really" used the stepfather's surname or not. And of course, if there was just one husband whose name was not known, he would always be the husband with whom the mother was living in 1930.
Who Was Their Spouse in 1930?
For those female notables of marriage age in 1930, sometimes the problem was determining who their husband was in 1930. This difficulty was aggravated as there were some notables I could not locate who I suspect had a husband in 1930 that they kept hidden in their past.
Who Were Other Family Members?
Searching for the entire family is always a good genealogical technique and since Ancestry.com has an every-name index, it worked here several times as well. Occasionally searching for the siblings of the desired person was more effective than searching for the actual person—especially if a sibling had an unusual first name. There were also times when finding all the "right people" in the same household helped me determine that I had the correct family.
Their Occupations Helped
Many of the notables had listed occupations that were atypical for the area in which they were living or for the time period. This made it easier to determine if I had the correct individual. When I located a Maybelle Carter in Virginia listed as a musician, I was pretty certain I had the right family in my attempt to locate her daughter June Carter Cash—even though June was not enumerated with that name in the census. After all, in 1930 not every wife had an occupation enumerated and those that did were rarely listed as musicians (especially in rural Virginia).
Their Occupations Did Not Help
I did not always know what occupation the person would have had in 1930 and sometimes this caused confusion when I thought I had located the person. For instance, Gene Autry is enumerated in 1930 as a telegraph operator—not what I expected. This had me confused until I located several biographical references indicating he had worked as a telegrapher before his other career took off.
It Gets Repeated and Repeated
In order to learn something about the backgrounds of the people I was trying to locate, I used search engines to locate biographical pages. Finding the official page of the person was always an excellent idea, but these "official" online biographies did not always contain the necessary details to actually locate the person in the census. Fans created many of these sites, and unfortunately many of the sites contained the same biographical text. The idea here is to locate a site maintained by a diehard fan—one concerned with getting as many accurate details as possible. This is much like trying to locate that elusive GEDCOM file created by a genealogist obsessed with accurate details. Unfortunately, for some of the notables I was not always able to locate such sites. When I saw the same typographical error over and over, I knew the biography had been simply copied and pasted from one website to another.
What County Is That In?
Genealogists obsess on the county where a village or town is located. Biographers do not. Consequently I used the United States Geological Survey's Geographic Names Information System site to determine the county in which a town or village was located. Using the county in the search box was helpful in several cases.
Make a Chronology
Some of the more useful "fan sites" that I used were ones that contained a chronology of the person's life. Chronologies made it easier to pinpoint where the person would have been living in 1930 and who their spouse should have been on the date of the census. Census work is just one instance where chronologies are helpful to family historians.
Locating the notables in 1930 taught me quite a bit about searching the census. It also provided a glimpse into the lives of some of America's notables. It became clear that while some were living lives of privilege in 1930, some clearly were not. This just goes to show that a lot can change in seventy-three years.
"My 1930 Census Experiences"
"Panning for Panagiotis: An Urban Census Problem with a Twist"
National Archives 1930 Census page
Copyright 2003, MyFamily.com.
Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
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