Saturday, July 14, 2012

Playing Detective

Like most folks who've worked on their family tree, knowing the 1940 Census has now been made public made me especially curious.  After all, we're finally talking about a couple of generations I actually grew up knowing, instead of a list of names who "begat"  and came before me.  

My curiosity was tampered with a good dose of reality, knowing it wouldn't be as easy as pushing a few buttons.  The original records are available online, but in original "as is" condition.  Think microfilm on your computer because they're still too new to have been transcribed for the instant data age.  No, these hand written records were made when penmanship wasn't as important as the ability to sit still and log down information long hand.  The 1940 records made me yearn for those "note takers" of the 1700s, with their flowing handwriting and little curlicues.  But I was ready to give it a try.

And then 1940 government raised it's ugly head.

I couldn't just punch in my paternal family's home state and town.  No, I had to know the Enumeration Number.  Yeah.  Exactly what I thought.  Huh?  Do I get a guide to 1940 with that? I soon discovered before you can peruse this wealth of knowledge, you must know exactly what area of town your relative lived in and what enumeration number that was given.  In case you're thinking about doing this, here's the key: if you know have a copy of the 1930 Census info, the number is on the upper right hand corner of the page.  When you go to the 1940 Census, they will tell you what that number was changed to.

What?  You didn't think the government would use the same designation again, did you?

Once I got past that small piece of deduction, the real detective work kicked in.  No, not sifting through page after page of names scribbled by a bored civil servant (whose name is on each page, by the way) but by using my childhood memories.

That's right.  When I was a kid and my parents talked, I listened. Especially when they talked about being kids.

I remembered the name of the street my Dad lived on during that time,  Council Street, but I knew the records wouldn't state it outright.  So I began searching page by page until I found...

Ted Steele, Jr..  One of my Dad's boyhood friends.  The one who drug Dad and a few of the other neighborhood boys down to the Naval recruiting station after high school for moral support...and they ALL enlisted.  Dad always said four years of service was enough.  But little Ted retired as Admiral Steele.

But right now, I was looking at 7 year old Ted Steele, Jr.,.  The kid Dad played baseball with.  That's when I noticed, written on the side of the page was a street name: Washington.  That was a block or so over from where Dad had lived!  For kids who lived on bikes and running, that was like being next door.

Down the page and I ran into...

Bernard Wadford.  Yep, another of Dad's childhood posse.  Him I personally remembered from my own childhood.  And as I grew up, he was the kind man who faithfully visited or called when Dad had cancer.  He's been to every family funeral I've ever had to attend.

But for the moment, he was another 7 year old boy on Washington street and I was running behind him, yelling out, "Have you seen my Dad?"

For a moment, I wondered if I was on a wild goose chase.  Had my memory been playing tricks on me?  Had I somehow combined a bunch of the stories I heard as a kid and come up with my own story?

Three pages later, I found my Grandfather's name, with a notation in the margin, "Council Street".  And number three in his household was my 7 year old Dad.

Home run, I thought with a smile.  Hit that one out of the ball park.

Why a baseball analogy?  Did I ever tell you the story about the time my Dad wouldn't come in when his Mama called because he was busy playing baseball?  Grandma got so mad, she demanded he stay on the front porch, something most kids did back then when a parent made a declartion.  Not Dad.  He jumped over the fence and back into the game when she turned her back.  Exasperated, she called him back home, put him in one of his sister's dresses and made him sit on the front porch where all his buddies could see.

The best part about a family tree is the stories.  The family legends.  The ones that make you remember things so you can find them later.

Which is why I will be forever grateful that Dad left that front porch on Council Street to jump over the fence...and play baseball in a dress. 

1 comment:

mapstew said...

Was chatting with Ma tonight (soon to be 87!) and was asking her about our older generations, and relishing how animated she became recalling stories of her parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends. My baby Helena was with us and was loving every minute. :¬)