Sunday, February 14, 2016

Census Sunday: Beatrice Harris in the 1930 Census

Seeing my ancestors and relatives in historical documents is really exciting for me. They were there, then, doing something! They existed not just to me and my family, but in some way, to the world. I love uncovering the layers of their lives.

The very first document that I found on my paternal great-grandmother Beatrice Harris was the 1930 Census, also known as the Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 Population Schedule. Taken every 10 years and released to the public 72 years later, federal census records are a great way to track families and individuals over time. At their most basic, they tell us where people were living when, who they’re living with, where they’re from, and how old everyone is. Depending on the year, we can also learn what they do for a living, whether or not they can read or write, how many children they gave birth to, whether they are veterans (and in which war they fought), whether they own or rent their home, what they pay in rent, what they earned in the previous year, and more. Treasure trove of info.

Here’s a snippet from the page listing Beatrice in 1930.

So what did I learn?

Jefferson County, AL
First off, she’s living in the unincorporated town of Majestic, Alabama. Located in Jefferson County in north-central Alabama, Majestic was a coal town just north of Birmingham, which was a huge population center and major economic powerhouse in the South because of booming coal, steel and iron industries, supported by a thriving network of railroads.

Ardenia (Jackson) Harris and daughter Lillian
Beatrice is 16 years old and living with her mom, 33-year-old Ardenia Harris, and her 14 year-old sister Lillian. Ardenia – my grandmother’s grandmother – is married and has been since she was 16, but her husband (whom I would assume is still Solomon Harris, as they married in 1914) is apparently not in the household. Where’s Solomon? Ardenia’s obituary notes that he died before her – perhaps they were in Majestic because he worked in the coal mines and something happened to him while they were living in that community? She was remarried by 1935. Or perhaps he’s elsewhere in the community – while I’ve had no luck name-searching him in 1930, I’ll go back and browse page-by-page to see if he can be found that way.

In addition to the three women of the family, there’s also a baby in the house, Robert Johnson, listed as Ardenia’s grandson. He’s listed as only 4 months old! (While this census doesn’t specify, we know that this is Beatrice’s son, my grandmother’s oldest brother.) So that’s three generations in this one record!

But wait, there are other people in the household, as well!

Four boarders, men who rented rooms in the house and perhaps took meals cooked by Ardenia or her daughters, are living in the home. Given the absence of a husband, it seems this is how Ardenia was able to support her family and make ends meet. Well, hello there, entrepreneurship!

Census taker's notes on Ardenia's occupation and industry, 1930 Census.

There’s 44-year-old Will Austin, a widower from Florida, plus 20-year-old Lawrence Roy or Ray, 21-year-old Luzzill Ross or Rass, and 19-year-old Marshall Evans, all single and all from Alabama. All were coal miners. I wonder, was it fun and exciting for these teenage girls to live in the same building as these single men? Or was it scary and uncomfortable?

What else do we learn?
  • Ardenia is renting their home in Majestic, for $6 a month. This would be about $85 in today’s money.
  • Everyone in Beatrice’s family is listed as having been born in Alabama, as are all of their parents. In fact, the vast majority of folks in this community, black and white, were from Alabama.
  • Neither Beatrice nor Lillian had a job (at least one that they told the census taker about), but neither had they been in school at any point between September 1, 1929 and April of 1930. However, both girls, as well as their mom Ardenia are listed as being able to read and write. 

Interestingly, this is the only Census record that I can find for Beatrice. Since she was born in 1915 and census records are available up to 1940, I should be able to find her both in 1920 and 1940. But I haven't. Yet. But this just makes me even more grateful that I was able to find her in this one - it's an interesting snapshot of what her life looked like as a teenager, and it's a jumping off point for a few stories I'm going to be exploring later on.

Do you know anything about the family's life in Majestic, AL? Or where Ardenia's husband is? Please share! 

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