Where, oh where, can my grandparents be?

No, I don’t mean that they’ve run away.

What I mean is… I can’t find them. In the census.

My grandparents are missing.

In an attempt to prepare for Monday’s release of the 1940 U.S. Census, and in an attempt to steel myself to finish assignment #5 of the NGS Home Study Course, I’ve been doing a census “research report” for everyone in my pedigree chart back to my great-grandparents.

What I’ve discovered is… I seem to have overlooked my grandparents.

Wow. What the heck have I been doing as a genealogist for the past 25 years?

First off, my father’s parents are nowhere to be found in the 1930 census. I started my search by checking three separate search engines: Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Heritage Quest (the latter of which is incomplete anyway). I used every possibly spelling variation I could think of, including wild cards. Result: Nada.

What I did find was a 1930 Los Angeles City Directory listing my grandparents with an address. Bingo!

I moved on to to the incredible Steve Morse’s One Step Census ED Finder (and might I just add that Mr. Morse is a genius. Just sayin’.).

I wound up back on Ancesty in 1930’s Los Angeles, ED 772. My first pass through the 66 pages of ED 772 was to look for Ladd Avenue. Nothing. So I made a second pass through the pages, this time looking not only at street names, but also at every name in the census. Still nothing.

As I went through the pages, I followed Mr. Enumerator’s progress on a contemporary map of that part of Los Angeles (which hasn’t really changed much, thank goodness). And you know what? He never made it to Ladd Avenue. He made it to all the streets around Ladd Avenue, but never made the turn onto Ladd.

Was it possible that Ladd Avenue didn’t exist back in 1930? Of course not; my grandparents were listed as living there in the 1930 L.A. City Directory (unless the Directory was published at the end of the year, and Ladd Avenue was a brand-new street). Was I in the wrong ED? Not likely, since the surrounding streets were enumerated.

[UPDATE: In the comments, I was asked if I checked the 1929 L.A. City Directory. I had, but double-checked again this morning. My grandparents are listed in the 1928 L.A. City Directory at the same address on Ladd Avenue. The 1929 Directory only goes up to the letter “E” – I’m looking for “S” – as does the 1931 Directory. 1932 goes up to the letter “J.” I found them again in 1933 at the same address on Ladd Avenue, under a misspelled last name. It appears that they were NOT driving down the street in a moving van in 1930 when the enumerator was walking their neighborhood.]

So what happened?

Like I said, Mr. Enumerator did not step foot onto Ladd Avenue. Or if he did, he didn’t record it as such (or the page is missing).

But considering the fact that my grandfather was a postal carrier at that time, and the family moved around a lot, it’s entirely possible that they were driving down the street in moving van at the exact moment when the census was being taken. Maybe they even waved at the enumerator.

What I do know is that I cannot find them in the 1930 census.

And then there’s my mother’s father. He’s gone missing from the 1920 census. Again, I checked all 3 census search engines. Bupkus.

Marvin Dagle should have been about 7 years old, living with his parents in Big Sioux, South Dakota. His brother John would be born about 3 months after the census was taken.

Oh look! There’s George and Azelia in the 1920 census, right where they’re supposed to be! And there’s Azelia’s parents, Andrew and Louise, right next door! [waves]

But… where’s little George? Where would a 7-year old boy go in South Dakota in 1920?

I checked his other set of grandparents… perhaps he was visiting? Nope. Not there.

Did the enumerator forget to ask if any children were living in the house? Not likely, since the neighbors have 6 children listed, including their 1-year old daughter.

Did Marvin’s parents forget to mention him? No idea.

I did find Marvin in the 1930 census in Sioux City, Iowa, living with his parents and brother John. So at least I know they kept him.

(Thankfully my mother’s mother is easily found in both the 1920 and 1930 censuses. I would really be kicking myself if they were all missing.)

*   *   *

The moral of this story? Well, while everyone counts in the census, not everyone is counted. For whatever reason, people do get skipped. And that’s a bummer for us as genealogists.

My real question is: How did I not know this until this week?

Here’s my theory: When I started researching back in the late ’80s, we had to do everything “old school.” Not only were there no images online, there was no online, period. The NARA facility in Laguna Niguel was only open one Saturday a month, and was always crowded because everyone wanted to research on their day off. If you got there early and stayed until closing – which everybody did – you might get a couple of hours’ turn on the microfilm readers. Research time very limited. Why spend valuable time looking up people you already knew? After all, I lived within driving distance of 3/4 of my grandparents for most of my early life; didn’t I already know everything I needed to know about them?

Clearly, I did not.

And now they’re gone, having taken all the answers with them to the grave.


Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal
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