United States Census – People Lie

One morning on the radio, NPR was doing a story on a question about citizenship to be included on the 2020 census. I understand the worry, as there is the thought that census data was used to help round up Japanese residents and their American born children and put them in internment camps in the desert. My first thought hearing the story is, people could just lie. Digging down into the data for my on-going, long term neighborhood history project I’m noticing this.

People lie about their age. People lie about being married. Some people may be flexible in the racial group they identify with (Lucky C. Young I’m looking at you), which could be interpreted by some as lying about their race.

I’m trying to clean up data for a the Truxton Circle neighborhood history project where I look at the US census for every resident of my neighborhood. In this clean up attempt, I’m encountering lies and things that look like untruths. Take for example my attempt to hunt down Spencer Heywood. According to the 1940 census Spencer Heywood, a 50 year old self employed barber from Georgia who lived at 1649 3rd St in DC with his wife Ethel Heywood, a 37 year old government maid from Arkansas. According to the census he was a home owner. Outside of the 1940 Census, I can’t find any other record of the man. Now Ethel on the other hand….. In 1930 the residents of 1649 3rd St were 41 year old rail road worker Saunders Thomas, and his 30 year old wife Ethel, who owned their home. According to property records, Ethel shows up as the owner in 1924. No mention of a husband. In later records, Ethel and Sanders appear as owners. But in a 1972, when the Redevelopment Land Agency buys her house to (I assume) bulldoze it, the record stated that Ethel Louise Heywood (formerly Ethel Louise Thomas) was the unmarried widow of Saunder Frank Thomas, who died in 1934. Soooooooo, who was that guy at her house in 1940?

Now, I’m just guessing here. She may have been shacked up with some guy named Spencer. Was that the US Federal government business if she did? She was incorrect about her age being 30 years old in 1930 but only 37 in 1940. One of those ages is wrong, but what is it to the government?

This is not a call for people to lie about their citizenship status or any other field on the census. No, please don’t do that. Leaving it blank is a perfectly good answer. Just recognizing that people do and will put in incorrect information in the US Census. And not just the census, other documents I use, like city directories, land records and newspaper articles probably contain misstatements, fictions, and errors. It’s frustrating when you are trying to hunt down someone in the record. I do understand reasons for misstatements for things where the respondent isn’t getting anything of value in return, because some questions are intrusive and probably none of my business, but I really want to know what someone made in 1940 and how much education they had.

I’m reminded of a professor’s whose name I’ve forgotten who wanted me to be more critical of primary documents. Most of the time, 99% of the time, I trust the primary documents. But as I encounter these things with conflicting information, or lies, depending on my mood at the time, my general faith in the documents goes from 99% to 75%. The professor wanted me to take into account the biases of the document creators, and how I shouldn’t just give the benefit of the doubt.

This is an edited reprint of a post published elsewhere.

Lincoln Congregational Temple Closes- Don’t blame gentrification

Churches close.

typesof1957churchesThere are dozens of churches that existed in general Shaw area in the 1950s that are no longer around. Some church congregations moved, some churches are closed by their denomination, there are a variety of reasons. The Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple at 11th and R St NW, 2-3 blocks from the Shaw metro R Street exit had its last service this weekend.

The Washington Post made mention of gentrification in its article about the church’s last days. There isn’t a direct blaming of gentrification, but there is a lot of hinting. The church attempted to reach out to neighbors, added some programing but couldn’t get the membership numbers up after the Rev. Benjamin E. Lewis retired. Yes, parking pressures didn’t help. But looking back at the 1957 Church Survey (PDF), Lincoln UCC church members mostly lived outside of the Shaw neighborhood.

1957ChurchMapThe Church Survey from October 1957 looked at steeple, storefront and residential houses of worship from a block over from U St, Florida Ave, 14th St NW, Mass Ave and 2nd St NE. Lincoln UCC was one and in 1957, 74% of parishioners lived outside of the map in Brookland and Kenilworth. Those 25%  who did live in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area were reported to be elderly members, who should be more than dead right now. Don’t blame the demographic changes on the church’s decline.

When doing neighborhood history, I encounter many quaint fictions. Most of them are harmless. There is the belief that residents are home owners. And there’s the idea that church congregants lived in walking distance. Some do, many don’t.  Bible Way Church, which stopped the I-395 from destroying Shaw and going all the way through, only had 30% of its members in the Urban Renewal area. Mt. Sinai who will host tonight’s BACA meeting, had 96% of its members scattered elsewhere in the city. The upper and middle class Blacks who supported and were a part of these churches did not all live in the slum that was Shaw.

Black Home Owners of 1940: Heywood/ Thomas- Updated & Corrected

UPDATE #2- Okay the Haywood/ Heywood confusion was on me and my note taking. So it was Heywood as in Hey! Wood. She also sold the property in 1972 not 1975 as reported earlier. The other confusion is I noticed the date of her husband and it is reflected in the amended post.

I was working on a longer post when I came to a hiccup. People. People are complicated.

So I have a person in the 1940 census named Spencer Heywood, a black man born in Georgia possibly in 1890. He’s a barber. He owns his own shop according to what his wife Ethel Heywood reported to the census. Problem is, I can’t find Spencer Heywood outside of the 1940 DC census. The other problem is the Sanborn map says his house 1649 3rd Street NW does not exist, city directories says it does. If it did exist, it doesn’t exist anymore because there is a Northwest Co-op on that spot.

Sometime the indexing is crazy, maybe his name was misspelled in this or another census. I checked the 1940 census and that area was covered by someone who wrote in clear block letters. Then I checked the property records using that his name. Nada for that time period.

I moved on to the wife, maybe if I can find her, I might be able to locate him. Oh, I found her, but I did not find Spencer anywhere. Ethel appears in the land records for Square 551 (where Mt. Sinai, Florida Park and the Co-op sit) with two names between 1924 and 1972. Ethel Louise Heywood exists in the records between 1950 and 1972, Ethel Louise Thomas is named as the owner of lot H, later lot 0909, between 1924 and 1950. The April 1950 deed links Ethel Heywood and Thomas together naming her as the widow of Sanders Frank Thomas. Another deed from 1944 also calls her the widow of Sanders Thomas. She’s the main owner, but Mr. Thomas is only mentioned again in 1933 and 1937. The earliest record makes no mention of a husband, she acts as a singular entity regarding the business of the property.

So who the hell is Spencer? Could Sanders be Spencer?

In the 1930 census at 1649 3rd St NW, 30 year old nurse Ethel Thomas of Arkansas is living with her husband Sanders Thomas, a 41 year old waiter and DC native, with a lodger Ruth Sweeney, a 40 year old laundress. In 1940 the two residents of 1649 3rd St NW are Ethel Heywood of Arkansas, a maid for the federal government and her husband and head of household, Spencer Thomas Heywood, the barber from Georgia.

According to the 1972 paperwork, Sanders Thomas died in 1934, before the 1940 census, and Ethel did not remarry.

1972 Deed transferring Sq 551 lot 0909 to RLA

I don’t think Spencer and Sanders are the same guy. Okay, who the Hell is Spencer?

My spouse has a crazy theory. He thinks Ethel was upset, leaving Sanders she walked over to a dance club and ran into Spencer Heywood. They hatched a plan to bump off Sanders. Initially, he supposed she went to the Baker’s Dozen on 4th Street to dance her cares away, until I pointed out it didn’t open until 1944, after the 1940 census, and after Thomas’ death. Finally that damned plaque is good for something.

 

UPDATE- So it’s Heywood in the Census but Haywood in the record.

Black Home Owners of 1940: College Educated Women part 2

Please see Part 1 to read about 2 of the 5 women listed as college educated homeowners in Truxton Circle.

So in this post I’m going to try to find the story behind the remaining women; Miss. Eliza Matthews (60) of 1239 New Jersey Ave NW; Mrs. Blanch Lewis (60) of 1225 New Jersey Ave NW; and Mrs. Lucille Powell (46) of 69 Hanover Place NW.

Ms. Matthews bought 1239 NJ Ave NW in 1922 for what appears to be $9,000. I’ll have to admit, I’m not 100% sure about the various documents I’m looking at, but it looks as if this single black woman was able to get a loan to buy this house at 7% APR. And I can’t tell if she refinanced or got a second mortgage in 1932 from the Washington Loan and Trust Company (Riggs Bank?) for $4,000. In the Census record her name appears to be Elira Matthews, who at the time was living with her ‘sister’, also aged 60, Josephine Butts. Sometime around 1948 Ms. Matthews died and in a will Josephine E. Saunders (nee Thomas) became the owner of the property. Is this Josephine a different Josephine? Curious.

 

Blanch Lewis, or Blanche I. Lewis was listed as the owner in the 1940 Census, but when looking at other records it doesn’t look as if she really owned the place. In 1937 Edward Wellington Lewis buys 1225 NJ Ave NW from Czech or Serbian couple Ivan and Dorothy Mikalaski. Looking back at other earlier census records for a Blanche Lewis, I found her living in 1910 with her father Edward W. Lewis Sr. and sister Harriet. In 1940 she is still with her 55 year old sister Harriet who was working as a teacher. I’m guessing the Edward W. Lewis who really owned 1225 was a brother, as her father would have been extraordinarily old by 1937. To purchase the property, the loan Edward takes out with the Washington Loan and Trust Company is for $2,500. By 1954 EW Lewis is dead. His siblings William and Harriet E. Lewis are his only surviving relatives mentioned in the land records. It is possible Blanche was a widow and either married another Lewis or changed her surname back, but I think the Lewis sisters were probably spinsters.

Lastly, Mrs. Lucille Powell. I couldn’t find 69 Hanover on a map. I looked at the census page again. The last name isn’t clear, and page seems to be a mix of streets. The last two pages of this enumeration district appears to be a hodgepodge of different addresses. I decided to search for her by name, not location and found a record of a Lucille B. Powell, widow of James C. Powell on Square 617, lot 141 (71 N St NW) from 1944. Looking in a city directory for 1939, a Lucille Powell lived at 69 N Street NW.  Samuel M Powell lived at 71 N Street. Close enough. Regarding the property records, let’s just say it becomes confusing because it appears someone wanted to leave their property to 4+ family members and it just looks like a nightmare to figure out. Those family members include Mary B. Rhambeau (nee Powell), Gladys Powell Reid, Samuel M. Powell, Clara Willis (nee Reid), Miriam Reid Felder, and Lillian B. Branch. I quit. If I wanted to look up the history of a complicated family, I’d do my own.

Black Home Owners of 1940: College Educated Women, part 1

Here’s all 5 of them from the 1940 Census: Mrs. Bertha M. Clark (53) of 35 Q St NW; Mrs. Clementine Plummer (50) of 1500 1st St NW; DC Native Miss. Eliza Matthews (60) of 1239 New Jersey Ave NW; another DC native, Mrs. Blanch Lewis (60) of 1225 New Jersey Ave NW; and Mrs. Lucille Powell (46) of 69 Hanover Place NW. According to the census, these women had 4 or 5 years of college education. Lewis and Plummer were listed as married, and considering my experience with Annie Newsome, I’d have to investigate that to believe it true. Clark and Powell were widows and the only two of the 5, who were listed as employed. Mrs. Clark was a teacher and Mrs. Powell a government clerk.

All of these women were born after the Civil War, so it is fair to assume they were either educated at a Black college or a Northern college that allowed African American students. There is a chance that the two DC natives, Mrs. Lewis and Miss. Matthews attended Howard, or another local college, but not knowing their occupations, I have no idea where to start or look, and with Lewis there is that name change problem with married women.

Starting with Mrs. Bertha Clark, who was married to Ray A. Clark, bought the house together in 1922 for $2,800. The Clarks may have owned other properties in DC, as Mr. Clark was a real Estate businessman, but I’m just going to focus on their life in Truxton Circle, or as known at the time Census tract 46. Ray A. Clark died October 28, 1933, so he shows up in the 1930 census, but is gone by 1940. Like the McKinney’s the Clarks are a dual income (no kids as far as I can tell) household, as Mrs. Clark worked as a teacher. It appears she sells the house in 1947. So like Mrs. McKinney, I should add Mrs. Clark to the list of inquiries for the Charles Sumner School Archive.

Clementine Kay Plummer bought  1500 1st St NW (Sq.554, lot 175) in March 1940 for $2,500. Her marital status is not mentioned, but she is clearly acting as a single entity in the purchase. Her estate sold her house in 1964. Apparently she was declared incompetent by the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Mental Health No. 361-64 if anyone wants to look that up. I’d guess she was suffering from dementia, if you consider her age. These things happen.

Ms. Plummer has a doppleganger, maybe, an African American woman also named Clementine Kay Plummer, also from North Carolina. I cannot tell if these are the same or different women. The Truxton Plummer (age unknown) lived at 130 Thomas Street NW , in Bloomingdale, in 1930 with Marie (20), Owen (14) and John (8) Plummer, as renters from a school nurse named Martella York, who owned that home. When Truxton Plumber is on 1st St, she is just living with her son, John, aged 17, which is just about right. Also in 1930 there is record of a Clementine K. Plummer a 39 year old woman living with her husband Dr. John L. Plummer (49), and children Marie K. (21) an office clerk, Owen Y. (15), and John L.  (7) in Raleigh, NC. That’s….. way too much of a coincidence. The widow of John Owen Plummer Sr., Clementine Kay Plummer of Raleigh, NC died September 3, 1969 in Enfield County, NC of what looks like senility? The cause of death is handwritten on her death certificate, so I can’t really tell. That and the DC court finding Mrs. Plummer incompetent in 1964, makes me think, same person. Her date of birth was 2/21/1885, about five years off the reported age of 1940 Truxton Clementine Kay Plummer.

I mentioned this to my spouse, the Help (aka Weedwackerman) who is also in the history field. It brings into question the accuracy of the US Census and the necessity there is to use more than one source. There is probably more to the story of Clementine Kay Plummer, and should I ever decide to dive into the court records, maybe I’ll look that up.

I’ll explore the lives of the other ladies in a later post.

 

Black Home Owners of 1940: Annie Newsome

In my last post I started with Annie Newsome and could not find much on her so I moved on to Dr. Arthur McKinney.  There was another resource I could have tapped, but didn’t think it would have anything for me, the Recorder of Deeds. Because the Northwest Cooperative sits on the square where Ms. Newsome’s house sat, I was unsure the city would have those records. Well lo and behold, once I figured out the lot number, it was easy to find the Newsome house records.

In the 1940 census Ms. Newsome claimed to be a widowed woman of 53. Prior to that, in the 1930 census she claimed to be a married woman, who had been married for 24 years. Well according to the image below, she may have lied about that.

First page of deed transferring property to Annie Newsome, a Black woman

She bought the house as an unmarried woman in April 1925, from widow Francesca Garaci. So 5 years later for the 1930 census she’s been “married” for 25 years. I believed that she lied to the census taker, as she had two married families living in her home as lodgers, and probably did not want to lose respect in their eyes.

She also probably lied about her age. In the 1940 census she was 53 years old. In 1930, she reported being 47 years old. I’m not particularly good at math, but if she was correct in 1930, she should have been 57 years old, not 53. If she was telling the truth in 1940, then she should have been 43 in 1930.

Big deal you might say. Well, when trying to find someone in the records, the misinformation of birthyear and marital status can send a person barking up the wrong tree. Women, and I write this as a woman, can be difficult, especially when we move around, change our name because of marriage or divorce or remarriage, and lie about our ages. I’ve changed my name, moved around and got married. I’m vague about my age now. Enough about me, back to Ms. Newsome.

Annie Newsome, owned the house at 1616 First Street NW from 1925 to about 1943 when she sold it to the Embassy Dairy. Embassy Dairy was her “neighbor” of sorts on 1st St NW and it appeared they were expanding. From 1943 to 1950 Embassy Dairy Inc bought out her neighbors. That same year, Ms. Newsome’s next door neighbor Ophelia Hurd at 1618 1st St NW, sold her home to the dairy. She was listed as a widowed woman in both the 1930 and 1940 census. She probably bought her home prior to 1921, which is how far back the Recorder of Deeds resource goes.

Black Home Owners of 1940: Dr. Arthur B. McKinney

So I started looking for a woman. But the problem with women is that we sometimes change our last name and lie about our ages. Mrs. Annie Newsome (or Annie Newsone in the 1940 census) was listed as the head of household and married. She appears in the 1930 census with a different possible birthyear. So I gave up on her and decided to look at a professional man who might have more information about him.

Dr. Arthur B. McKinney abducted from Freedmen's HospitalDr. Arthur B. McKinney abducted from Freedmen’s Hospital Sat, May 15, 1926 – Page 2 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comSo I chose Dr. Arthur B. McKinney of 1519 1st St NW from the 1940 census. From the little clip above, Dr. McKinney was involved in some odd little caper in 1926 where his brothers abducted him from Freedmen’s Hospital and took him to his mother’s house at 1515 1st St NW. A Della A. McKinney, widow, is listed as a home owner in the 1930 census at that address.

Doing a quick search for Dr. McKinney, he sort of disappears towards the mid 20th Century. I found a 1942 draft card, when he was 52 years old, listing his wife Ethel T. McKinney, who in the census as a secretary. Dual income family! The last record is from a 1948 city directory listing he and his wife at 1519 First Street NW. By the 1954 city directory, Dr. McKinney is gone and only Mrs. Ethel T. McKinney remains, and her job description changed from secretary to Administrative Assistant for the District Board of Education. This is where I would call up the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, for more information, but I don’t feel like it.

The newspaper article from the Pittsburgh Courier is, int-ter-rest-ing. Not really sure what the heck that’s all about. I have told many to put me in an Uber if we can avoid sending me to Howard University Hospital, the former Freedmen’s Hospital from which Dr. McKinney was spirited away from by his brothers. So I understand hiring a private eye and concocting some cockamamie scheme to unofficially discharge from the hospital.

Redlining, African American Home ownership and the TC

Distribution of Negro Population by Census, 1930If anyone can find or recreate the Washington DC redline map, that would be helpful, because no one seems to have it. There is a project to map restrictive racial covenants, but those seem to be a small amount of DC housing, rather than the majority. The image here is the distribution of African Americans or Negroes, in DC in 1930, so probably close enough to a redline map.

Considering the map, Truxton Circle or as it was known then, Census tract 46, was more than half AfAm. If it wasn’t a redlined area, it may have been yellow, “Definitely Declining.” The area that became Shaw, ranged from 35% to over 75% black, which may have been too many black people for the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map makers.

Using data from my TruxtonCircle.org project, I just took a look at the 1930 and 1940 census data*. In 1930, of the heads of households, there were 1109 renters in the TC and 310 home owners. Of those who owned 237 were black. In 1940, there were 1442 renters, 269 home owners, and of those owners, 218 were black. So most people in the TC were renters and African American home owners were a majority of a minority of people.

So who were these Negro home owners? A lot were a variety of government workers (federal and DC schools), service workers (chauffeurs, Pullman workers, waiters) and professionals (doctors, ministers, lawyers) . I’d say the black middle class and prudent working class folks. The same people who’d engage in black flight in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

*I’m still cleaning up the data.

RIP – Milk Bottle Change Jar

This morning I heard the distinct sound of glass breaking. Not wanting to wake the Babyman, I waited till coming downstairs to ask the Help (my spouse) what was it. Apparently he had grabbed a book that shared space with the change jar and the other books shifted, sending the antique milk bottle to its shattered end on the floor.

Milk bottleThis milk was special, Truxton Circle special. Once upon a time in the early and mid 20th century, there was a the Fairfax Farms Dairy at 1620 First Street NW, where the Northwest Co-Op currently sits. That was a light industrial block with warehouses and of course the “dairy”. There were no cows to my knowledge ever on the property. Eventually fresh milk delivered to your door in these lovely glass bottles was no longer a thing, and so businesses like the dairy went away.

It was a nice reminder of the changes the neighborhood went through, that once there was an industrial section in the neighborhood. Dismiss those fantasies that residential areas were always residential areas.

We probably won’t get another antique 1620 1st St NW bottle. The Babyman would probably destroy it as he gets more mobile. We’ll just replace it with a cheap mason jar.

So Asbury Dwellings used to be a school

Three white guys posing in front of Shaw Jr High. Circa 1967-68.

 

Okay, if you are familiar with the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 7th Street NW you are aware of Asbury Dwellings, senior citizens’ apartments.

Well before it was housing, it was a school. It was THE school the neighborhood was named after. Just like Adams Morgan was named after two schools there, with its own urban renewal project, Shaw was named after the Shaw Junior High School. Which was named after Col. Robert Gould Shaw. So the neighborhood being named after the Col. Shaw is sorta kinda true if you’re totally ignoring the urban renewal part of the neighborhood’s history.

So behind the three white guys with rolled up posters, is the school and you may be able to make out the word “High School”. It now reads “Asbury Dwellings”. If you don’t feel like bringing up a Google street view of the place here’s a link to a Library of Congress photo of the current building. When you really look at it, it is a beautiful building.