Sunday, April 8, 2012

My First Look at the 1940 Census

The news is out by now. The 1940 Census images were released on April 2, 2012. Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to do very much searching for my ancestors until this weekend. It has been quite an interesting journey with much more to come.

Since my Mom's family lived in a small town, Greenwood, Cass, Nebraska, I assumed they would be easy to locate in the census. I checked every page of the Greenwood village census and they weren't there. Knowing the family had lived in Omaha for a while in the 1940s, I thought they might be there. I wasn't quite ready to tackle a city of that size just yet, especially without an address.

I knew where my Dad's family lived in 1940, so using the tools at, I started looking for the Petersens in Lincoln, Lancaster, Nebraska. Can it get any easier than this? I found him on Page 6 (of 56!) living with his parents and his younger sister.

The Petersen family in Lincoln, Lancaster, Nebraska, 1940

Clara Laymon Pecht
her grandchildren
Kenneth Petersen
Shirley Petersen
circa 1940-41
This photograph of Dad and his younger sister, Shirley, was probably taken around the time of this census. Their Grandma Pecht died in 1941, so I think that's a pretty good estimate.

In the census, it looks like my grandfather, Otto W. Petersen, provided the information. He said that his wife, Ruby, was born in Nebraska, but all other documents indicate she was born in Kansas, just across the border from Hardy, Nebraska, where many in my family lived for decades (and still do).

I couldn't decipher the handwriting for Otto's occupation, but Dad picked it out clearly, "Fuel Foreman." We both agreed on the "Steam Railroad" part of this data item.

As I shared the census images with Dad, he started yelling out names of their neighbors for me to look up. I couldn't keep up with him! I found several and will definitely go back for a closer look. It was one of those unplanned moments when I wasn't prepared to start jotting down notes as he reminisced about the old neighborhood.

After my success in finding the Petersen family, I had to turn my attention back to the Kellys and see if I could find Mom's family in Cass County. After browsing the list of districts, "Salt Creek" jumped out at me as I knew I had seen "Salt Creek Precinct" on many other documents related to my Cass County kin.

The Kelly Family in Greenwood, Cass, Nebraska in 1940.
Without much of an effort, I found my grandparents, William and Sina Kelly, their son, "William Leroy Kelly, Jr" ("Jiggs") and my Mom, Patricia. In 60 years, I've never heard anyone refer to Jiggs as William, Bill or Leroy, so it's interesting that he is listed as LeRoy in the 1940 census. The two oldest daughters, Margaret and Helen ("Jerry") had moved out of the house by this time. Grandpa Kelly was a farm laborer. His family had been huge landholders and raised stocked until the Depression, so it would appear he may have been working for someone else as most of the family's land and assets were long gone by this time.

Mom - Patricia Kelly
My Aunt Jerry with her baby, Joe
Grandpa Bill Kelly
This photo would have been taken circa 1940-41 based on the birth date of Jerry's son. Mom looks like she was about 13 or 14.

As I read through the list of names of the people in Greenwood in the three Enumeration Districts, it was a very eerie feeling. I came across other relatives who I never knew other than by their name, as they had died before I was born. I recognized the names of the Landon family, my Sunday School teacher, the janitor from the school I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. Most of those names I see only when I go to visit the Greenwood Cemetery.

The families in Greenwood had been there for at least three generations in 1940. My Mom's contemporaries were the parents of the kids I went to grade school with. Even though I was young, apparently I had a pretty good memory for people and their names, even if I'm not able to place a face to many of them.

These census records are some that I will go through several more times. I found Grandpa Kelly's brother, Paul and his wife, Elsie. And there was Grandpa Kelly's mother, Mary (Welch) Kelly, living with her other son, Francis. Her husband, Dan Kelly, had just died in February of 1940. After celebrating 50 years of marriage, she had to have been going through some transitions when the census taker came around.

I've since located my Dad's great grandparents, Jens and Caroline Petersen, in Hardy, Nuckolls, Nebraska, but I haven't found his other grandmother, Clara Pecht, pictured above, who was living in Beatrice, Gage, Nebraska in 1940. My other great grandparents, John and Emma Bellinger, were dead by this time.

Now comes the part of putting the stories together to go along with the records.

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