Sunday, February 4, 2018

52 Ancestors: In the Census

This week’s prompt is “In the Census”.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly 6 years since the 1940 census was made available and thanks to a mighty effort but thousands of volunteers, it was searchable pretty quickly.  My main goal with the census was to find my mother, Geraldine Martin, since she wasn’t 100% sure where she even was at that time.  I’m sure that seems hard to believe but it was about that time that her parents divorced and she spent some time with her mother, some time with her grandparents, and some time with her great aunt, Anna Theresa Fitzgerald Sronce.  So many places to look – I even blogged about the clues I had HERE

My mother didn’t talk much about her childhood but once I started on this journey, she seemed to remember more and more details and if pressed, would even share them with me.  I wish I’d pressed her more.

One place I knew she wasn’t was with her father, Earle Martin.  I think the photo below was taken in 1937 and I believe it wasn’t too long after that her parents divorced.   

Earle_Gerry 1937
Geraldine Martin and Earle Martin, c. 1937

When I first started looking nearly 6 years ago, I was unsuccessful in all of the places I suspected she would be.  Thankfully, Mom was still living at the time so I called her and asked the obvious question “Mom, where were you in 1940?”  I don’t remember the exact sequence of events (darn, I should know not to count on my memory) but at some point I think she said “I must have been at the Hotel in Oakland”.  HOTEL???

Turns out she was right!  Lo and behold, there was my mother, along with her mother, at a hotel on Harrison Street in Oakland.

1940 Census

Of course it’s hard to see them here (they are the last two entries), so I’ve cropped it  here.

1940 Census cropped

Oh boy, that’s still small.  On the top line it shows Clara Martin, Head, Female, White, 36 years old, Divorced, born in California, lived in Fresno, California in 1935 and her occupation was Hostess Manager.  And underneath is Geraldine Martin, Daughter, Female, White, 11 years old, Single, born in California, lived in Fresno, California in 1935.  That all checks out!

It might be the first time I’ve really studied a census like I did this one.  And because of that, I learned some new information.

In 1939, Clara’s income was $1500.  I would guess they got reduced, or maybe even free, board as part of Clara’s compensation as the Hostess Manager.  But $1500 in one year to take care of yourself and an 11 year old child?

In 1939, Clara worked 50 weeks of the year and worked 40 hours per week.

Clara’s highest school grade completed was 3 years of high school or 11th grade.  So she didn’t graduate from high school?  How did I not know that and, more importantly, WHY DIDN’T I ASK MY MOTHER WHEN I FOUND THIS?

Looks like Mom was in the 6th grade.  Would that be right?  She turned 12 in June, 1940 so I guess that makes sense.

One question asked was what the work status was during March 24-30, 1940.  Clara was at work for pay or profit and Gerry was in school.  Which school did she go to?  And, more importantly, WHY DIDN’T I ASK MY MOTHER?

I did find a link with a map of where the property was located and found this:

Map of 1940 Census Location Oakland

Hmm, that looked so familiar.  Turns out my paternal grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, lived with her mother’s brother, Sam Steen, and his wife in the 1918 time period at 1733 Harrison Street which would have been just a few blocks away.  Hear the Twilight Zone music in the background? 

Geraldine w dog
Geraldine Levy – c. 1940-1943

Just think – only 4 more years and the 1950 census will be released!


  1. It is amazing how much information you can mine from one census record. So you think your parents met through this overlap? :) And I can't believe it's only four more years!

  2. You can plug that $1500 into an inflation calculator to figure out how well off they were. You can also find what $1500 would buy in 1940. I wonder if they had a kitchen or if they ate in the hotel restaurant.

    1. Not too well off - it's worth about $26k today.

  3. My mother's family moved in August 1940, so when she told me that she was living in a neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh, it turns out that they hadn't moved yet - they still lived in the city. Can't always trust a parent's memory. Great post!

    1. I do understand an untrustworthy memory - I doubt myself all the time. :-)