Take a Trip in a Time Machine

Yesterday, the US National Archives released the 1940 census records. Verdict? There is a lot of interesting information available, and it is embarrassing how easily I got sucked into the old census records. While you can’t search by a person’s name, you can search by geographic area, so of course I looked up The Mister’s house.

I don’t know if I already explained this, but the New House is on the property next to The Mister’s current house – he bought both lots as part of the current house and split them into two addresses. Surprisingly, the current house’s address doesn’t show up on census records (despite being built in 1889), but the New House’s address does. Still with me?

I would have been more surprised by this discovery, but when they were excavating the foundation for the New House, they found “artifacts” that made it clear there used to be a house on the property. We tried to talk to some of the older members of the church across the street to see if they had records, pictures, or even memories of the house that was there, to no avail.

So, what did the census reveal?

1940 Census results

The former residents

Mike Ortega, age 38, used to rent the house for $10 a month. He lived with his sister Julia (age 29) and his adopted son, who I think is named Nestor (age 9). Both Mike and Julia were from New Mexico originally and had 5th grade educations. Julia stayed at home and kept house, while Mike was employed through an emergency public work program (a result of FDR’s New Deal) as a laborer at an air school, making $660 in 1939. He had lost his privately held job 52 weeks earlier and immediately entered an emergency public work position.

If you find this information as fascinating as I do, Gawker (surprisingly) has a pretty solid guide on how to use the US National Archives’s search tools to look through the census by address. I found the first search a tad bit complicated, but once I realized how the system worked it was much easier to continue to search.

Take some time to check it out – I fell down a census rabbit hole and found out that my current house was rented by a 29 year-old woman who worked as an evangelist. She paid $15 a month, or 1/50 of my monthly rent. I also found it impossible to look up my childhood house, since that area has changed and grown drastically since 1940. I knew my neighborhood didn’t exist until the 1980s, but I was interested to see the census records for the farmland. I just don’t know enough about Lexington County’s geography to give it a go, though maybe I’ll attempt it again later tonight.

These census records are like a time machine – what can you find out?

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