Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Making Sense of the 1940 Census

The National Archives released data from the 1940 Census in April, and the 134 million names have now been indexed by state and can be more easily perused by historians, demographers and anyone interested in family history. As the National Archive website notes, “... The 1940 census recorded that critical period in American history as the country was still recovering from the Great Depression and before its entry into World War II.”

Even though I already knew where my Riggs great-grandparents were living that year, I looked them up on ancestry.com because I’d read that the 1940 census – the country’s 16th – posed questions it hadn’t asked in previous years, about things like internal migration and participation in New Deal programs.

G. Oliver and Islea Riggs are listed in the 1940 Census.
I learned that my great-grandfather G. Oliver Riggs was putting in 48 hours a week as the municipal band director in St. Cloud, Minn., for which he received an annual salary of $2,160. His wife, my great-grandmother Islea, was working 25 hours a week as a music teacher in their home at 821 12th Ave. S. Her salary was not listed. Their home, which they owned, was worth $4,500.
G. Oliver and Islea’s former house as it looked a few years ago.
It was interesting to compare this information with the data about G. Oliver’s younger son, my great-uncle Percy (Pete) Riggs, who was employed as a high school music teacher in South Bend, Indiana. Percy was working 60 hours a week and was receiving a salary of $2,307. His wife, Patricia, was not working outside the home that year; she was no doubt keeping busy with daughters Mary Jane, age 12, and Islea, age 5, as well as her mother, Mary, who was living with the family in their rented home at 226 E. Donald Street.

Percy with the high school band he directed in South Bend, Indiana.
I had hoped to also find data about my grandfather Ronald, but I couldn’t locate his name in the census anywhere. I know that he, my grandmother Eleanor and their baby (my dad) had moved to St. Cloud from Thief River Falls in 1939, when Ronald took a job as a music and social studies teacher at St. Cloud State University. So they should have been listed at a St. Cloud residence in April 1940, when the census was taken. Either their names were misspelled, or they were somehow missed (that year, the census takers went door-to-door interviewing everyone, and made return visits if people weren’t home the first time).

Although my search for my Riggs grandparents was fruitless, I did learn this from ancestry.com: there were at least 2,674 people living in the United States in 1940 (make that at least 2,677) with the last name of Riggs. That would be quite a reunion. I wonder how many there are now?


  1. Ronald J Riggs

    In 1940 St Cloud City Directory living on 1006 9th Ave S.

    Using our Unified Tool at http://www.stevemorse.org/census/unified.html

    Ronald and Eleanor and William
    ED 73-57 Page 3 of 22 or Sheet 2A and 2B

    Transcribed as Ronald J Peggs...

    Have fun

    Joel Weintraub
    Dana Point, CA

  2. Joel,

    You are wonderful - thank you!