Now that the 1940 census is more or less fully indexed I took a lazy woman’s stroll through some of our ancestor’s records.  I wasn’t expecting much new information.  My mother and mother-in-law both remembered that time and filled me in on the stories of our grandparents.  With such low expectations I was all but assured of finding something of interest and, of course, I did.

My husband’s grandfather worked for the WPA in 1940.  The WPA or Works Project Administration was founded in 1935 by the order of President Roosevelt to alleviate unemployment and start the country on the road to recovery from the Great Depression. At it’s peak in 1938 it provided jobs for 3,000, 000 people.  Edwin Cole was one of them.

In the 1940 census Edwin reports that he is working in “cement” and employed by the WPA.    My husband remembers being told that his grandfather traveled around Seattle pouring cement porches for people with an African-American partner.  Such a partnership would be unusual in the 30’s and 40’s, but maybe not if the WPA was involved.  The NAACP praised the WPA for providing African-Americans with real opportunity.  I would love to know if this partnership started with the WPA and continued on afterward.  There is so much rich history to be discovered in WPA records, but I haven’t scratched that surface yet.

Today, I am simply wondering what brought Edwin Cole to need the help of the WPA.

Edwin emigrated from Northern Ireland as an infant and lived with his parents in Nebraska and then Oregon.  In Oregon he met Rosa May Martin and married her in 1907. The marriage announcement states that Ed is “a prominent young businessman”..  By 1908 they were settled in Seattle.  A daughter was born and died in that year.  The 1909 city directory shows Edwin owning a grocery store at 2422 2nd Av.  Edwin and Rosa were living above the store.

The next city directory entry I can find is 1914.  By then Edwin and Rosa are living at 927 N. 87th St..  They owned that house and would live there for many years.  The grocery store is gone and through the years that followed until1929 Edwin worked at various jobs in a shipyard.  I expect there was work to be had in the shipyards prior to and during the First World War and Edwin seems to have found steady employment there.  By 1920 two sons had joined the family in the house on N 87th street.

Edwin Cole as chief janitor in the Arkade Bldg

After the stock market crash in 1929 America’s industries, including ship building, ground to a halt.  In the 1930 census Edwin is listed as a houseman in a hotel.  A houseman is a janitor in a hotel. I imagine Ed lost his job and counted himself lucky to be working as a janitor in 1930.  Although things must have been difficult Ed and Rosa were still able to deed two wood lots to their sons in 1934.

By 1935 things got worse.  Ed was unemployed and then in June Rosa died.  Ed couldn’t find full employment until the WPA provided a job for him.  I’m not sure when he started working for the WPA, only that he continued at least until 1940.  In 1938 he married Effie Kane and the two moved to a small house on Interlake Av. next door to Effie’s son. Ed made a total of $700 in 1939.  These were hard years in America and in the Cole household.  As America geared up for the Second World War the economy recovered and the austerity of the 30s eased.

I think Ed and Effie had a few good years until Effie’s death in 1945.  Ed continued for as long as he could and eventually moved in with my mother-in law and father-in-law.  He died in 1959.

As for me, I seem to need to continually relearn the classic genealogy lesson,  just when you think you’ve got it all figured out…


The first people I wanted to look for in the 1940 census I still haven’t found. A day or so after the release of the 1940 census I went browsing to find my parents. Not so different from searching through microfilmed censuses after all, and they didn’t used to be indexed either.

I started out looking in Yellow Springs Ohio for my parents who were both college students at Antioch College from the late 1930s to the early 1940s. I used the Steve Morse webpage to pull up enumeration districts covering Yellow Springs and then to look at the 1940 ED description for each of the three (who would have thought 3 separate EDs for a small village like Yellow Springs??) EDs listed. The ED numbers are 29-15, 29-16, 29-17 for anyone interested in looking. The description shows that there were actually 4 EDs but the CCC camp had no population. There was one ED for the village of Yellow Springs. There was one for Antioch College and Infirmary with a population of 42 (huh?!) and one for the township outside the 2 villages in the township. I took a look at the couple of pages in 29-16 which covered the College and Infirmary and, sure enough, there were a small number of people listed – none of them students. A quick skim of the Yellow Springs village ED showed no students at the college. At this point I decided to move on.

Recently I went back to the Yellow Springs village ED to see how many of the college teachers and administrators I heard about from my parents I could find. The first page produced Paul and Jessie Treichler, which I had seen on the first page when I looked the first time around. He was in the Drama department and she was secretary to the college president. Her mother lived with them, and they had all been in the same house in 1935.

Then there was George Geiger a couple of pages later. He was listed as a Language teacher on the census in 1940 but he was a philosophy professor. His widowed mother-in-law also lived with them. The Geigers had been in Peoria Illinois in 1935 (one of the interesting pieces of information collected in the 1940 census). Both of my parents spoke of Professor Geiger and taking a course with him. Professor Geiger was also another who was still there, still teaching philosophy when I was a student.

Manmatha Chatterjee and his family were found next. He was a Social Sciences teacher and my mother talked of taking courses with him. He had been at Antioch for some time at that point, and was listed with his family as living in the same house as in 1935. Another Social Sciences teacher from that time that I looked for, but haven’t found, was Clarence Leuba. My mother spoke with great respect about both of these professors.

The last professor of note to me, was Denton Magruder, professor of accounting and my father’s adviser his senior year. My father never said much about him, so I don’t have a sense of what he was like in that role. He lived with his wife and daughter in the same house they had lived in in 1935. There was also a roomer living with them, a public school teacher.

I also found several administrative or management people whose names I knew. The first of these was Marion Dickinson, the college office manager. My mother (and probably father) had dealings with her, and spoke fondly of “Miss Dick” who helped them figure life out on campus. She was a roomer in a house with its owner and 2 other women, living in the same place as in 1935.

Then there were the families of Basil Pillard and of J. Dudley Dawson on the same page. Dr. Dawson, who was an icon on campus when I arrived, was listed as Manager, Personnel in the 1940 census. I suspect, but haven’t yet been able to verify, that Personnel may have included the co-operative education department for which Antioch became known. He lived with his wife and three young sons and his mother, having been in Tennessee in 1935. The Pillard family included Basil who was Dean of Students, his wife, two young sons and a daughter. My mother told the story of running across Dr. Pillard riding his young son’s trike on her first day on campus. On that same census page, at the bottom, was Miss Susan Fralick who was the college registrar. She signed a letter for my father in 1942 certifying that he had been granted a B.A. I’m not sure why he needed this, but he had two official copies among his papers.

The other administrator I found, who my mother talked about periodically, was the college president: Algo Henderson. My mother always called him “Algo D.” which I presume is what most people called him. He lived with his wife and two children in the same place they had lived in 1935.

And then there was Bessie Totten, who I don’t remember hearing about from my parents but who I know was the first archivist of the college. She was listed as librarian, I think she was head in 1940, and she retired soon after that but stayed on organizing the college archives.

The one other person who caught my eye was Axel Bahnsen, the local photographer. When my parents were students they all had pictures taken by him as freshmen and again as seniors. The picture of my mother I grew up seeing was her senior college picture taken by him, and she was lovely. Mr. Bahnsen and his wife were counted, living in the same house as in 1935, with no children. He was the proprietor of a photography shop.

This is obviously a limited view of even a small place like Yellow Springs. There were many other people employed by the college in a variety of jobs. There were also many other jobs and industries represented, including shopkeepers, schoolteachers, doctors and nurses, laborers, skilled laborers, maids and cooks and housekeepers, various researchers (at the Fels Research Institute), etc. The most exotic job I noticed was a test pilot at the nearby air field (Wright-Patterson), but there were others also employed in other jobs at the air field too.

Now, 2 months after the census was released, I am back to thinking about how to find my parents. I searched the internet looking for how college students were handled by the Census Bureau back then. It looks to me like the usual approach was to count college students at their parents’ home even if they lived away at school during the school year. Hm. So I need to find my grandparents. Unfortunately I know where my father’s parents were. His father had died almost 20 years before and his mother Carrie had been committed to the Longview State Hospital (for the Insane). Although my father seemed to use his aunt’s address as his home address (my great aunt Susan R. Salt), he was not listed with her there. So I have more searching in store to find him. My mother’s parents were still in Canton and I have an address from 1938 but I haven’t found them yet.