Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dale Evans Census Search

Michael John Neill posted a challenge his Casefile Clues blog on Saturday - in Win a Year of Casefile Clues--Find Dale Evans in 1930 - can you find Dale Evans in the 1930 U.S. Census?  He provided links to two online websites with biographical data - Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database .

From those sites, a reader can learn that Dale Evans was born Lucille Wood Smith, born in Uvalde, Texas; had her name changed by her parents in infancy to Frances Octavia Smith, married Thomas F. Fox at age 14, had a son Thomas F. Fox at age 15, divorced him in 1929, married August Wayne Johns shortly after, and divorced him in 1935.

I decided to search for Frances Octavia (Smith) (Fox) Johns in the 1930 census - how hard could that be?  I figured that she was listed with Mr. Johns and her son, Thomas Fox.

I struck out searching for given name = "Franc*" or "Oct*" or "Fan*" with last name = "Fox" or "John*" and a birthdate = "1911" plus/minus "2" years and birthplace = "Texas."  Deleting the birthplace of Texas didn't help either, nor did expanding the search to "1911" plus/minus "5" years. 

I decided to search for given name = "Tho*" and last name = "Fox" with a birth year = "1928" plus/minus '2" years.  That gave me 48 matches, including the last one:

1930 United States Census, Cobb County, Georgia, population schedule, Marietta Ward 5 (Militia District 698), ED 15, Page 6B, Dwelling #145, Family #161, Thomas S. Smith household; online database, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com), citing National Archives Microfilm Publication T626, Roll 347.

The summary of the information (residence at 300 Lemon Street, enumerated on 9 April 1930):

*  Thomas S. Smith - head, rents home for $11/month, no radio, male, white, age 23, married, "N" for age first married, did not attend school in last year, can read and write English, born South Carolina, father born south Carolina, mother born South Carolina, a laborer, works in a furniture factory.
*  Octavia F. Smith - wife, female, white, age 21, married, first at age 19, did not attend school in last year, can read and write English, born Georgia, father born Georgia, mother born Georgia, no occupation.
*  Thomas Smith - son, male, white, age 1-6/12, single, did not attend school in last year, can read and write English, born Georgia, father born South Carolina, mother born Georgia, no occupation.

Why did this entry come up when I searched for the son, Thomas Fox?  Because user "beverlyleach75" had entered an alternate name into the Ancestry.com database for the son - noting that he was  "Fox, Sr. rather than Smith" and that "Frances Octavia Smith Fox later became Dale Evans who married Roy Rogers, Sr."

 How does this happen in the census?  Why is Frances Octavia (Smith) (Fox) Johns using her maiden name after two marriages, listing her supposed husband and son her maiden name, giving the wrong age and birthplace, and wrong age married? 

My analysis is that she was escaping to Georgia from wherever (some people think it was Memphis, Tennessee) with her son, and gave the false information to the census enumerator.  I can imagine this conversation between Frances and the enumerator:

Enumerator: "What's your name"
Frances:  "Octavia Smith."
Enumerator: "Do you have a husband?" 
Frances: "Yes, his name is Thomas."
Enumerator: "Do you have children?"
Frances: "Yes, one son, Thomas."

Most researchers know that census enumerators are under no requirement to question the answers or to prove anything.  Their job was to count people, their relationships, gender, race, age, birthplace, occupation, etc. 

Therefore, the husband and son were named Smith also.  I've seen occasional entries like that in my experience, as I'm sure you have, where the census taker assigns a surname to the whole family that is wrong. 

The scenario above makes some sense, and would have been much more difficult to find if there had not been the "Alternate Name."  A 1930 census search for first name = "tho*" with birthdate = 1928 plus/minus 2 years, father = "tho*" and mother = "franc*" yielded 162 matches, but not the right one.  A search with mother = "Oct*" yielded five matches including the one above.  Because Octavia was such a rare name, it could have been found. 

It turns out that there is another probable entry for Thomas and Frances Fox in the 1930 US census.  There are 643 entries for a match with given name = "franc*" and last name = "fox."

One of them is in Memphis, Tennessee (residence at  41 Bellevue Street, enumerated on 3 April 1930):

1930 United States Census, Shelby County, Tennessee, population schedule, Memphis Ward 19, ED 71, Page 13B, Dwelling #195, Family #250, Tommy Fox household; online database, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com), citing National Archives Microfilm Publication T626, Roll 2275.

*  Tommy Fox - head
*  Frances fox - wife

The entries are crossed out.  There is no other data about them, and the son Thomas is not listed.  The Ancestry name index lists them, but the index below the image on the Ancestry.com Record Image page does not list them.  Is this Frances Octavia (Smith) Fox?  Why are the entries crossed out?  Did they move away before the enumerator came by, but someone said that they resided there and when the enumerator returned they had moved away?  I don't know!

However, note that six families below this entry in Memphis is a family headed by Wayne E. Jones, age 23, with a wife and two children?  Is that August Wayne Johns?  I don't know, it might be. 

There is a birth certificate record for Lucille Wood Smith, born 30 October 1912 in Uvalde, Uvalde, Texas, daughter of T. Hillman Smith and Bettie Sue wood (accessed on the Texas Birth Certificates, 1903-1934 collection at www.familysearch.org).  This entry is not in the Texas Births and Christenings, 1840-1981 collections on www.familysearch.org

What about August Wayne Johns?  Where was he in the 1930 census?  Was that him in Memphis enumerated on the same page as the Fox family?  I don't think so - there is an August W. Johns, age 21 born in Mississippi, living as a boarder in Memphis Ward 25 in the household of James E. League.  My guess is that he's the guy. 

When were Frances and August married, and where?  Since she was listed as both Fox and Smith in the two entries above, were they married by April 1930?  Franly, I doubt it, because the August W. Johns in Memphis is listed as single in the census record.

This case illustrates that there are many people "hiding" in the census records - with wrong names, relationships, ages, etc.  Many persons were not enumerated in each census (my guess is about 10% in 1930), for whatever reason.  A researcher cannot take anything for granted. 

Michael John Neill awarded a one-year subscription to myself (since I found the Georgia entry first) and to the person that found the Memphis entry first.  Thank you, Michael!

Michael has other contests for a free year of his excellent Casefile Clues newsletter - see the list (with links) of these contests at Open Contests for a Free Year.

(c) 2011. Randall J. Seaver. All Rights Reserved. If you wish to re-publish my content, please contact me for permission, which I will usually grant, with proper attribution. If you are reading this on any other genealogy website (other than an RSS feed), then they have stolen my work.


BeNotForgot said...

Thanks for sharing the process in your search for Dale . . . I had completely missed the Memphis listing when I was researching Roy and Dale back in May . . . I stopped looking for Dale when I found the same one you found in Georgia . . .

Now I'm curious . . . did you take a try at finding Hank Williams in 1930!?!

Nikki said...

Wow! What a series of variables in looking for her! Thanks so much for sharing, it was a fascinating read