Friday, April 21, 2006

A peculiar Census Record

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..Fem...White..Keeping House
Libby Thompson.........age 18..Fem...White..Diddles
Harriet Parmenter.......age 23..Fem...White..Does Horizontal Work
Ettie Baldwin.............age 23..Fem...White..Squirms in the dark
Lizzie Harris..............age 24..Fem...White..Ogles fools
Josephine DeMerritt.....age 27..Fem...White
Nellie Burnham...........age 23..Fem...White
Millie Grofton............age 26..Fem...Black..Cook

Listed as “House of Ill Fame” on Margin.

So who do you think gave this information to the census taker? I wonder of Josephine and Nellie were also ladies of ill fame, but perhaps favorites of the woman of the house?

Have you found any funny or peculiar census records? Tell me!!


Anonymous said...

Hi Randy, thanks for including me in your mailing list. I am also deeply involved in genealogy, having bought into the census reports from My genealogy on my webpage is badly out of date. I've made more effort to update the database on

Anonymous 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.