Monday, April 16, 2012

My Family in the 1940 U.S. Census, Part 1

Like all my genealogy friends, I was excited for the launch of the 1940 U.S. Census. I didn't really expect to discover any new family members but I did have one question that I was hoping to have answered for me. That question was, "How much education did my dad have?" All in all, it doesn't really matter. It's just that education is a subject near and dear to my heart and I've long wondered about his.

My dad died when I was just 17 years old and as a kid I never thought to ask him how many years of schooling he had. I just assumed he graduated from high school. Didn't everybody? (It was expected of me and the rest of the kids in my neighborhood.) Years later, my  mom told me that my dad told her he only went to school through the 6th grade and then he had to drop out of school to sell newspapers on a street corner to help support the family. I found this a little hard to believe. My dad wasn't exactly a scholar but he read the newspaper daily, checked repair manuals out of the library whenever necessary (and used them!), and for all the years I can remember he subscribed to and enjoyed reading Popular Science magazine. That is not exactly scholarly stuff but it's more than most 6th graders I know could handle.

Before she died, I interviewed my Aunt Mary Jane, my dad's youngest sister and the only one of the siblings to graduate from high school. She insisted that my dad finished the 8th grade before he dropped out of school. And she confirmed the story about him selling newspapers on the street corner to support the family.

Then I remembered my mom telling me that after she graduated from the 8th grade at Assumption BVM Catholic School she went on to 9th grade at Condon Junior High, a Detroit Public School. She'd said she was bored most of that year because the curriculum in the Catholic school was so much harder and that she already knew everything they were teaching at the 9th grade level in the public school. I'm fairly certain that my dad attended a Catholic school as well so if he did finish the 8th grade he might have had more like an average 9th grader's education. Now that would make more more sense to me.

So April 2nd arrives and the first ED I downloaded was my dad's family. I was hoping that someone reliable was giving information to the census taker and I was in luck. My Grandma Carrie was designated as the person providing the information. Moms know how much education their kids have. Even a mom of 11 would know that information for each of her children. Of that I'm certain.

So what did I find? My Aunt Mary Jane was right. My dad is listed as having completed 8 years of school. That makes sense to me and I was pleased to finally have an answer to my question. As usual, when genealogists find one bit of new information it generates even more questions and such is the case for me. I know how much education my dad had but what about his siblings? There was a wide range of education levels among them. Why was that?

Uncle Eddie and Aunt Genevieve completed the 10th grade. Wow, I would never have guessed that they were the most educated members of the family. (Three other siblings had already moved out of the house. One of them completed 8 years of school, one 9 years, and one sibling I still haven't found.) Auntie Florence, who went on to have a rough life, only completed 5 years of school and was working as a waitress in a beer garden. Sadly, that pretty much sums up her life. Auntie Ceily's education was equal to my dad's. She completed the 8th grade as well. One also would have guessed she had more education than that based on how she lived her life. I was only a little surprised that my Grandma Carrie completed 7 years of school. She attended a Catholic school which begs the question, why didn't she complete the 8th grade? And then there's my paternal grandfather. He had no formal schooling at all growing up in Poland. I also found his sister in the 1940 Census and she didn't have any formal schooling either. Perhaps they didn't have a school in their little village.

All this information was quite enlightening. I didn't think I'd learn all that much from the records in this census but I'm pleasantly surprised by what I've found. Below is a scrapbook page I created about my dad. One photo of him was taken the year before he dropped out of school. The other photo of him is the closest I have to the year 1940 when the census was taken.

So much for my dad and his family. Next up I'll take a look at my mom and her family...


  1. I was most interested in the amount of education my older family members had too. Nice montage.

  2. Awesome post! Good job of painting a picture with round out the data from the census!

  3. Thank you, ladies! The more I comb those census records the more I'm learning about families I thought I already knew.

  4. I think it was fairly common for young men to "finish" school at the end of 8th grade. It was true for my father who grew up on a farm and who I think is a little older than your father. To me it's amazing the success people made of their lives with only 8 years of formal schooling.

    I wasn't really interested in the 1940 census until I learned the questions that were on it. I've garnered interesting bits of information when looking at my parents', grandparents' and great-grandparents' information.

    I'm looking forward to your next post about your mom.

  5. I already knew my dad had dropped out of school in the 10 grade, he went to work to help support the family, I was surprised his younger brother stopped after 8th grade. The nearest high school was about 25 miles and they could not afford for him to board there.

  6. I'm glad the 1940 answered your question for you. I think Nancy is right in that for many people 8th grade was the finishing grade. My dad finished 8th grade and had to go to work. My mom was the one who encouraged him to get his high school equivalency. He later graduated from a two year college after he retired from the navy.

    I LOVE the scrapbook page!