Saturday, April 14, 2012

1940 Census: Supplemental Information

Future generations of genealogists will look fondly back at the 1940 Census as the high water mark of information of census information of genealogical value. It was the first census that used stratified sampling to collect information deemed useful for government policymakers.

As you probably know the US Census was NOT initiated in 1790 in order to provide 21st century genealogists with a treasure trove of family information. I think with 20/20 hindsight we would have had them design it very differently if that had been the case. Rather, it was conducted to apportion membership in the House of Representatives on the basis of population. Hence it became known as the "population census". At first only heads of household were listed by name. Gradually the government started asking more questions to help decision makers.

In a great leap forward, the 1850 census started listing by name all the non-enslaved individuals. All individuals were listed starting in 1870. By 1880 the masses of immigrants made the government interested in countries of birth of both individuals and their parents. In 1900 year of arrival of foreign born residents as well as their citizenship status was added. Gradually the census was becoming more information rich and more cumbersome to collect. 

By 1940 the tide of immigration had ebbed and the Great Depression had turned more attention to economic issues. These trends are evident in the questions asked. By then statisticians had begun to convince the Bureau of the Census that stratified sampling would provide a useful a picture of the population as a whole with a whole lot less cost and effort. Thus the supplemental form was introduced for those of us who are fortunate enough to have family members enumerated on lines 14 and/or 29 of the main census form. If you fall into this category, be sure to look down to the bottom of the image on which your relatives are listed. Although everyone was asked where they were born and where they had been living in 1935, only 5% were asked where their parents were born and several questions about their participation in a new government program called Social Security.

When I located the image below, I was pleased to notice that the individuals on both line 14 and line 29 were persons of family interest:
Census Image for Boone Station, Alamance County, NC (Click on image to see original)
Leonard Kernodle on line 14 is the great-granduncle of five of my seven grandsons and Clyde Smithey on line 29 is their great-grandfather.

It is always important to look at an entire census record. Too often our excitement of discovery causes us to tunnel-vision in on our relative and to ignore the other relevant community information. Were our ancestors as well off as their neighbors? Were they related to their neighbors by family or by occupation or country of origin?

In this case Clyde Smithey did not go very far down Old Elon College-Ossippe Road to find a bride when he was married later that year. He married Leonard's sister Minnie Lea who was listed on line 15.

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