Monday, April 9, 2012

1940 U.S. Census Lessons Learned - Read the Whole ED

Last week, I tried to find my wife's grandparents residing in San Francisco in the time of the 1940 U.S. census. Severt and Amelia Leland resided at 1287 37th Avenue in San Francisco in the 1930 U.S. Census, and my brother-in-law told me that they lived there in 1940.

I easily found the Enumeration District using the Steve Mores ED Finder on - the block was bounded by Irving on the south, Lincoln on the north, and the back street was 38th Avenue.  The ED is 38-405 (64 images).

My first attempt was a failure - I found what looked like 1287 37th Avenue on the very first page of the ED.  Here is the left-hand portion of the page:

The address is not real clear - it looked like 1287 the first time I looked at it.  Perhaps it is 1289, 1287, 1285, 1283, etc.  But this was not the Leland family, it was the Sinclair family.  The given names are not like the Leland names, it is definitely not the Severt Leland family.

I verified with my brother-in-law last night that they lived at 1287 37th Avenue until Severt died in November 1940.  Then I recalled that I had not searched the entire Enumeration district - I had stopped when I saw the "1287" entry above.

I reviewed the whole Enumeration District last night and finally found them on image 39, which was Sheet 61A (the first sheet of the missed families).  Here is the top of the census page:

There are all the family members I expected to see, but the last name is Sebert and the given names are Leland, Amelia, Alda, Juanita and Diane.  Amelia provided the information, and somehow the enumerator wrote down the last name as her husband's first name, and his first name as the family last name.  In addition, the Severt name is misspelled as Sebert.  Anyone searching an index for this family will not find them with a standard first name - last name search for any of the family members.

Another problem here is the last name of Alda (a daughter, age 25, divorced) and granddaughter Diane (Alda's daughter, age 4) - they are both listed as Sebert.  They had Alda's first husband's last name at this time, and the informant either misstated their last names or forgot (perhaps conveniently).  Again, someone looking for Diane in the census will have a hard time finding her in an Index search when it is available. has the ability to add index information and I will try to do that when the index is available.

I saved the page to my hard drive so that I can send it to my brother-in-law.

The lessons learned here are:

1)  Read every page in an Enumeration District for the persons in your target family.

2)  Look for the address and if you don't find it, be sure all pages, and not stop at the page with what appears to be the correct address.

3)  Be alert for spelling variations of the names, and always consider the potential switch of first and last names.  The enumerators, or their informants, were not always accurate.

4)  Be alert for divorced daughters, and children of the divorced daughters, who might be listed with the daughter's maiden name rather than her married name.

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Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Anonymous said...

I found my mom's family but have decided the enumerator was lazy--they had written Mississippi as the birthplace for everyone on the page. Luckily, previous census records are correct with the 3 different states of birth for those in my family group!

Cousin Russ said...


I see that you were on Ancestry for that record. Hint: Rotate the page to the RIGHT if you have a Street Name. Rotate is back to the Left when you see your street name. BUT don't stop there, keep going til the end of that ED if you don't find who you are looking for. That street may or WILL appear on more than one page and probably NOT the "next" page. At the end, of the ED, may be a page of people who were not home when their house was canvased.

Glad you found who you were looking for and posted your findings.


Elizabeth Handler said...

Another item to be aware of - a child with his step-father's surname rather than his own surname - see my post about all the errors in my Dad's household at From Maine to Kentucky.

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

Great post, Randy. I had this same problem when searching for the Martin Colmann family in San Francisco in the 1880 census. I knew their address from the city directory. When I found the ED, I searched on microfilm page by page (this was years ago) looking for the address. When I found them, sure enough, they were listed as Martin, Colmann. I have added a correction in Ancestry.