Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The 1940 census: looking for Michutkas

It made the national news—to some extent—but you might not have picked up on what an exciting day yesterday was, unless you’re really into genealogy. Yesterday was the release of the 1940 census, seventy-two years after it was taken. This is a gold mine of information for anyone researching family history.

Each census asks a slightly different set of questions, so tracking a family from one census to the next in ten-year snapshots shows more than just the fact that everyone aged ten years. Some censuses ask the year of immigration (for those not born here) and their citizenship status; this is hugely helpful information for then finding a person on a passenger list or locating their naturalization papers. The 1910 census asks each woman how many children she had, and how many are still living; this is often the first clue that a child was born and died since the last census, or that an adult child who can’t be found in other recent records is actually deceased.

The first targets of my searching will be my Michutka grandparents, and my Grandpa Michutka’s mother, step-father, and half-sister. The 1940 census isn’t indexed yet; that will take probably six months, so I have to plan my search geographically, identifying enumeration districts and then reading line by line, page by page. Grandpa and Grandma Michutka moved around a lot, nearly every year, but remained in the area of Ovid, Michigan. I’ve already read through the 1940 enumeration district in Clinton County where they lived in 1930, hoping they might still be there. I found their former neighbors, the Hoffmans and Burls; I saw my dad’s godmother, Mrs. Waydak; and I ran across the family of one of my dad’s best friends growing up, Glenn Decker. But no Michutkas.

What do I expect to see, once I do find them? My grandparents George and Valeria Michutka were almost certainly living on a small farm. The census will tell me whether they owned or rented, and the value of their home if owned, or what they paid for monthly rent. Honestly, I don’t expect they owned. I’ll be able to see how their home value, or rent, compared with others in the area. This census asks the citizenship status of those foreign-born; George did not become a citizen until later in the 1940s, although he took out “first papers” in the 1920s. A new set of questions on this census asks where each person lived in 1935, but I don’t expect any surprises there.

I expect to see sons Don, Victor, and Vincent living with their parents. Eldest children John, Jennie, and Josie were out on their own by then. I’m betting that middle children Joe and Paul were “farmed out,” living with and working for other families in the immediate area. The question is, will they be enumerated with those other families, or with their own family?

There’s a chance that I’ll find my grandparents living with great-grandma and her second husband. At some point, George and Valeria were having a tough time economically (ok, they always had a tough time economically!) and they shared a house with George’s mother and step-father. My dad said that one family lived in the front of the house, the other in the back of the house.

I’m really curious to see this great-grandmother’s family enumeration. Johanna Pavlik Mičutka Luzenia and her second husband “Big Andy” Luzenia always lived near my grandparents, but often over the county line in Shiawassee County. Johanna’s illegitimate daughter, my grandfather’s thirty-year-old half-sister Mary, lived with them. I never know what surname Mary will have in a census, or what her relationship to the head of household (Andy) will be; both have always been wrong in the past. One new thing with the 1940 census—the person providing the information is identified. So, if Mary’s info is wrong again, I’ll know who the guilty party is. Actually, I’ll be shocked if Mary is enumerated with her correct legal surname Pavela, that of her biological father. It took me over twenty years to find that particular piece of information, and it apparently was not known to her nieces and nephews.

This census also asks about a dozen questions regarding the employment status of everyone age fourteen and older. Will it show that my grandmother did field work, or only that she was a housewife? I’m interested in finding out George’s and Andy’s income in 1939, and how that compares with others'. They worked their small farms, but also had other odd jobs such as section hands for the railroad, or digging ditches for a WPA project.

The 1940 census has an interesting variation: one person on each page was asked supplementary questions. Those enumerated on the lucky lines (lines 14 and 29) were asked about their parents’ birthplaces and the language they spoke growing up, their status as a veteran, whether they had a Social Security number (this will be handy for researchers!), more questions about their usual occupation, and for women who were or had been married, whether married more than once, age at first marriage, and number of children ever born. I’d love to see great-grandma Johanna’s answer to the last question, as I know of seven children (four lived to adulthood) but have one document that says she gave birth to eight children. We’ll see if any of the family ended up on one of those lucky lines.

So in the odd half hour here and there, I’ll be looking for my Michutkas. I’m not expecting any surprises—well, if I expected them, they wouldn’t be surprises, would they?!—but I seldom get a new document but what it has information I totally didn’t know about before. So, I guess I’m remaining open to the unexpected. Stay tuned.

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