Census records are great for giving us birth events, names and relationships (stated or presumed) and depending on the year other various event and identity information. But I do believe that every census tells a story, with the questions it begs us to ask.
My grandmother was Jennie Elizabeth Payne and she was born in North Carolina. In 1930, I find her living in Crowder Mountain, North Carolina with her brothers and sisters.1
I think too often we gather the names, the vitals and the relationships and move on. Or maybe we transcribe everything off the record. But what is the story that this document tells us? What are the questions that it is begging us to ask and then answer?
A quick look tells us that particular census is not the basic family unit we expect to see. Where are the parents? There are some fairly young children in this household; Otto B is only 8. Where are his mother and father and why have they left their youngest children to be raised by their oldest.
Floyd R Payne, Jennie’s brother, owns the house. This is not typical for a 20 year old single male in this area. Floyd is listed as a farmer on a General Farm, and his two brothers, Thomas and Robert, are listed as laborers on a Farm, presumably the family farm. None of the sisters are working and Lela and Jennie are in their 20′s. So it would appear that the family is not destitute.
So how did they end up in this situation? Are the parents dead? Is there some other reason for this family setup? It’s not that they were living here in this particular time and place, the story will come from why were they living here in particular time and place and where are the people we expect to be there.
The story begins by asking the right questions.
1. 1930 U.S. census, Gaston County, North Carolina, population schedule, Crowder Mountain Township, p. 133 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 9, sheet 18A, dwelling 280, family 314, Jennie E Payne; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 May 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1691.