Wednesday, April 25, 2012

1940 Census sheds light on missing data

While I'm excited for the release of the 1940 census and am surprised by all the fanfare. Well, maybe not so much. My Google Plus stream was a bit inundated with blogs about the excitement, the reveal, the minutiae, the chase, the hunt. All signs indicated the ancestor season was open again with fervor surrounding the release of another window into the past.

I had my ticket and was one of the folks anxiously waiting for servers hosting the census to allow me a good connection to start the hunt. Wyoming, my primary quarry, became available later in the process. While frustrated by the wait, I knew would be worthwhile. Census takers in Sheridan County, Wyoming, were quite meticulous with good handwriting throughout, great notes indicating reasons for an extra space or why an infant had been crossed out--(the child was born after the cut-off date for enumeration, but still listed as a footnote to the census all the same.)

I poured over all of the pages for Sheridan County, my rat's nest of roots. I found the young men in their homes before enlisting in the service of their country, my great-grandmother, Alice (Van Gorder) Lupton, a widow since 3 December 1938, among so many other things.

While I found the release of the census to be another exciting time, I started thinking about a couple of loose ends in California. The release of the census is a chance to tie things together a bit more, right? I took a couple days away from the census and started looking for records of William F. Van Gorder, my great-great grandfather who left Wyoming sometime after being enumerated in February 1920 in Sheridan County. The Van Gorders homesteaded just across the Wyoming-Montana state line near present day Decker, Montana.

I have to confess there is a bit of a mental jumble here that my brain has mixed up things. As I write this, I realize that for a few years I had incorrectly processed time with William. I had thought that he had gone to California around 1940, several years after his wife, Axy, died in 1918 in Boulder, Colorado. The assumption of a California sunset for William was based on the fact that two of his children, Claud and Ivy, a lifelong bachelor and a spinster who lived together, moved there by the time of the 1930 enumeration. And, anyone who has spent a few years ranching in Wyoming and Montana and enduring the extreme conditions prevalent in this region, a California sunset seems to be a logical choice in life.

After pulling up the California Death Index on, I had to do some manual searching for William but found him to be a cooperative ancestor. I was excited to have a death date and the information to locate his death certificate. Feeling lucky, I opted to look for another couple within the same records, Samuel and Vina (Willis) DeLapp who lived in Santa Clara County.

I had previously located the 1910 enumeration for both Samuel and Vina--with a bit of excitement. Samuel was enumerated twice within a week. On 18 April 1910, Samuel and Vina were enumerated together, ages 85 and 84 years old. Five days later, Samuel is listed in the household of his son, John S. DeLapp as a widower. My search in the death records confirmed that Vina passed away on 22 April. And even though I was aware of the information in the enumerations previously, a bit of wind was sucked out of me upon validating the data. The implications that a census taker, perhaps the same one, knocked on the door of a family with a recently deceased loved one, seems ironic and surreal.

So, even with the excitement of the 1940 census, I found a couple of detours along the way that were equally satisfying.