Saturday, May 05, 2012

Shepards in The 1940 Census, May 5, 2012

I don't care how poor a person is;
if they have family, they're rich.
~Dan Wilcox

Hello Family and Friends,

Greetings to all of you from San Diego on Cinco de Mayo! It's a holiday few people north of the border knew about in 1940 -- even in the border town of San Diego -- and that even fewer celebrated.

One of the most significant events for family researchers this spring is the release of the 1940 U.S. Census, with personal data on millions of Americans that has been kept confidential for 72 years.

As I sought to find out what the Census said about my Shepard and Gower grandparents, my first search was for my Shepard ancestors. (I will share what I find out about my Gower kinfolk in a future blog post.)

In April, 1940, when the Census was taken, I knew that my grandparents William Shepard and Bura Davis Shepard and their family lived in the small town of Two Buttes, Colorado.

Which was a stroke of luck. Later that year the Shepards moved from Colorado to San Diego. Finding them in the San Diego records would have been much more difficult than tracking them down in the little hamlet of Two Buttes.

When I brought up the records for Two Buttes, Colorado I found what I was looking for on the second sheet of names. There at the top of the list was William Shepard, 51 years old, with wife Bura (43), son Eugene W (18), and daughter Thelma Lee (3). (See first picture from about 1937 of teenager Eugene and his sister Thelma in Colorado.) The listing further showed that the Shepards were renting a home for only $6 per month. The record also showed that father William and son Eugene (one year out of High School) were unemployed, and that William had only worked a total of 3 weeks in the previous YEAR. 

How did the family survive? I wondered. But the biggest question I had at this point concerned Elmer, the oldest son of the family, who I thought lived with the family at this time. Did he live somewhere else in town? Had he left home for the military? I kept looking.

Three family listings later I found my uncle Willie D. Russell (31), and his wife Pauline (Shepard) Russell (23), with children Rex D. (3), and Beverly Jean (11/12 of a year old). (See second picture from 1940 of Rex and his sister Beverly Russell in Two Buttes.) Uncle Bill, the Census record showed, was working steadily for the Government at the time as a "tractor man" on road construction, having made $575 in the last year. They were renting their home for $7 per month (which puts an annual income of $575 in perspective).

I found only 4 pages of names for the entire town of Two Buttes, with 40 names on each page, but nowhere could I find the last Shepard family member at that time, Elmer. Then I discovered that the 4 page list I had been searching consisted only of those who lived IN town. There was another smaller list of families who lived OUTSIDE Two Buttes -- a 3 page list with 40 names per page. On the second page of that list I found Elmer. He was shown as a "hired hand" who lived on a farm with a family named Brown, consisting of an older widow with 5 grown children. Elmer had been with them for at least a year and was making $7 per week. (See third picture of Elmer from about 1940, taken in Colorado.)

So there they were in the Census records: all 9 members of our Shepard clan (Will, Bura, Elmer, Eugene, Thelma, Bill, Pauline, Rex and Beverly). Just 5 months after the Census was taken, all 9 left the dusty confines of South East Colorado, motored across 1,200 hot miles of barren deserts and rocky hills (that must have been an adventure in itself!) and settled in San Diego. And a whole new era in the life of the Shepard family began.

The 1940 Census records didn't show a lot of information, but enough to confirm that these were our people, and that their life was not easy in that particular region at that time. It also confirmed what I had already suspected: that financial concerns, and in particular employment opportunities, were a major factor in their wise decision to move to Southern California. 
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