Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is This the "Best" Census Record Ever?

Believe it or not, genealogy has its share of the funny, peculiar and maudlin. Here is a census listing that no one wants to have show up in their ancestry:

From the 1870 Census for Ellsworth Township, Ellsworth County, Kansas (NARA M593, Roll 434, Page 30, Dwelling #90, Line 34 and on):

George Palmer...........age 37....Male....White....Farmer
Elisabeth Palmer........age 35....Female....White....Keeping House
Libby Thompson.........age 18....Female....White....Diddles
Harriet Parmenter.......age 23....Female....White....Does Horizontal Work
Ettie Baldwin.............age 23....Female....White....Squirms in the dark
Lizzie Harris..............age 24....Female....White....Ogles fools

John Edward Harris ....age 4....Male....White

The next household on the next page is:

Josephine DeMerritt.....age 27..Fem...White
Nellie Burnham...........age 23..Fem...White
Millie Grofton............age 26..Fem...Black..Cook

Both households were listed as “House of Ill Fame” on Margin.

So who do you think gave this information to the census taker?  I noted that George and Elizabeth have been married since April 1870, so perhaps Elizabeth was also a prostitute before she married George.  

I wrote about this ten years ago, and a comment by Anne said:

"I am an amateur genealogist and historian in Wichita, KS. A friend directed me to your peculiar census record, knowing I research madames and prostitutes of early Wichita.

"The census taker was undoubtedly all too well aware of the occupations of the members of the Palmer household, and was probably bored when he wrote those occupations for the female boarders. Josephine DeMerritt was the first name on the next page of the census, and that's why she and Nellie didn't get the same treatment as the ladies on the previous page. I can tell you for certain that Josephine was indeed a prostitute, and Nellie almost certainly was as well. The Palmers ran a brothel. It wasn't as fancy as a parlor house, but it was better than a crib on the line.

"At the time of the 1870 census, the railroad in Kansas only ran as far south as Ellsworth. By the time of the 1871 season, the railhead had been extended to Newton, and Josephine had gone south as well. She had become the mistress of Edward T. "Red" Beard, who ran a dance hall in Newton. By 1872, the railhead had been extended to Wichita and Red and Josephine had a dance hall in Delano, the lawless township on the west side of the Arkansas River from Wichita. Red had a running feud with "Rowdy Joe" Lowe, who had also moved his rival dance hall south with the railhead, and right next door to Red's. It all came to a head on a day in October 1873 when Rowdy Joe shot Red Beard. Josephine claimed that Red had made her a co-owner of the dance hall in Delano, but when Red's wife showed up in Wichita the papers were proved to be a forgery. Josephine spent a couple of years in Leavenworth Penitentiary, was released, and ended up in Leadville, CO. After escaping to Fort Worth, Texas, Rowdy Joe spent some time in Leadville as well, before ending his days in Denver.

"Josephine was one of the few prostitutes I have researched who used her own name instead of an assumed name."

I appreciate that Ann has done some research - I wonder if she ever published anything about these "interesting" persons in the records.

Now I'm wondering if any of my readers have a candidate for "Best census record ever."  Please let me know - I need blog fodder!


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Copyright (c) 2016, Randall J. Seaver

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Densie said...

I've been wondering if my mystery, brick wall Great-Grandmother could have been in that business. There are many suspicious things about her, she first appeared in 1885 Nebraska marrying a 19 year old man, claiming to be 20 herself (actually 24), 4 months pregnant. She continued on the Denver where she married my Great-Grandfather after a divorce from the first husband, had 3 children and proceeded to be respectable until he died a few years later.
She had a "colorful" life after that, her daughter was my grandmother who died when my father was only a few months old.
My grandfather told me my grandmother's family "were not nice people".

Anyway, I found an interesting article online written by Anne Diffendal, Prostitution in Grand Isle, Nebraska1870-1913. Perhaps Anne Diffendal is your commenter.


Barbara McGeachy said...

The 1880 census says "leg off" in the comment beside my 72-year-old great-great grandmother. In this census, she was "Elizabeth Night." I assume she lost her leg due to illness (diabetes?) or injury. This is why it ALWAYS pays to look at the original, not just the index! She lived another 9 years.

1880 U.S. census, Johnson County, Tennessee, population schedule, District 9, enumeration district (ED) 003, p. 19, dwelling 5, family 5, E. B. Snider household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Feb 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll 1265.

Find A Grave, digital images (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 18 Feb 2015), grave marker for Elizabeth Wilson Snyder, Memorial #65794423, Snyder Family Cemetery, Ashe County, N.C. Elizabeth’s marker photographs
by Sparhawk, 2012. Cemetery photographs by Chet Walker, 2013. Inscription: ELIZABETH SNIDER, Born Feb. 11, 1808, Died Oct. 10, 1889.

Ann Boll said...

Hi, Randy, it’s Ann, I'm still researching those shady ladies! I have a couple of interesting 1860 census records sent to me by others who know I research the shady ladies… the first one is page 13 from the city of Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida (Year: 1860; Census Place: Tallahassee, Leon, Florida; Roll: M653_108; Page: 13; Image: 13; Family History Library Film: 803108) where Sarah Oliver, Elizabeth Shepard and Mary J Harrison all have the occupation “One of pleasure”. Then there’s the page 71/497 from the 1860 Western Division, Monroe County, Mississippi census (Year: 1860; Census Place: Western Division, Monroe, Mississippi; Roll: M653_587; Page: 497; Image: 501; Family History Library Film: 803587) where Thomas Hill’s occupation is listed as “Loafer”; he’s living in the same household with three “Prostitutes” (Telitha Follin, Ann Hill and Lousana Hill). Take a look at household 461 on that same page… two of the ladies in the household have the occupation “Prostitute” while Martha Inman and Lucinda Hill are both listed as “Prostitute Most …” and I can’t decipher the next word, can anyone else?? The next line lists C Conn(?), age 63, as a “Wantoon Azalea”, or something like that. I would really appreciate help from you or your readers with clarification on those occupations! THANKS!