Friday, December 5, 2014

Who Was the Census Taker?

Back in October, I read a post on Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems blog called "See what this intriguing census taker had to say about the neighbors." Lisa wrote about some unusual entries made by a census enumerator in the 1875 census and provided some details about his life.

Her post got me thinking. I don't recall ever looking to see who the census takers were for my ancestors' neighborhoods. I've looked at lots of census pages but never paid attention to the enumerator. Wouldn't it be great if one of my relative's names appeared on the top of the page as the census taker?

Well, I randomly pulled up census pages to take a look, and there was no such luck with that wishful thinking. But I did find something interesting for the 19th Ward of Pittsburgh (Mt. Washington). In the 1930 census, the enumerator was Anna M. Allen and, in 1940, it was Bessie Dorgan. I'm guessing that female census takers weren't that unusual, but it still caught me by surprise. So like Lisa, I wanted to find out more.

In 1930, Anna M. Allen was a 41-year-old widow who lived in the Mt. Washington area of Pittsburgh, the same area where she worked as a census enumerator. Her husband Charles J. Allen had been a city fireman but died of pneumonia two years earlier, leaving her a single mother of three children: Charles, Ida and Edna.

In 1940, Bessie Dorgan was a 49-year-old widow who lived on Mt. Washington (though she was not the census taker on the page where her family is listed). Her typical occupation was a stenographer and had completed one year of college, but she had been unemployed for 64 weeks. Bessie's parents were James Burns and Anna Dunn, both from Ireland, and her husband Charles P. Dorgan died in 1917 of pneumonia, leaving her with two sons under the age of 3 at the time. Bessie passed away at Pittsburgh's Mercy Hospital at the age of 72.

Two women faced with the difficult task of raising children alone did what they needed to do in order to support their family, if only temporarily. They became census workers, and their names and handwriting will be visible to their descendants for generations to come.

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