Monday, September 13, 2021

Finding a Farmer in the 1950 US Census

None of my immigrant ancestors lived on a farm after arriving in the United States. Several in-laws were born on farms, but by 1950, they lived in cities. 

Still, I wanted to experiment with the super-useful "Unified Census ED Finder" on Steve Morse's One-Step page to locate someone living on a farm in 1950. 

Remember, we need the Enumeration District Finder before the 1950 US Census is indexed. Not being able to "search" by name, we're going to be browsing the Census by address, one page of one ED at a time, in search of ancestors. 

With cities and suburbs, that's not so difficult because we can narrow things down by including cross streets and back streets (see my earlier post here). Then we only have to browse pages of one ED (or perhaps two).

What about farm addresses? In the past, farms might get their mail via RFD, not listing a street address. Without an address or at least a specific street, the ED Finder can't help us narrow down the number of enumeration districts we'll have to browse. Time to experiment!

First step: Try to find the 1950 address

For my experiment, I chose Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, CT, which has been in the Lyman family since 1741. (I've visited the orchard in the past and enjoyed the sunflower maze, by the way.)

My reasoning: If the family's name is on the farm, I can more easily find the owner in a Census or other document. Luckily, the website has a timeline and indicates names of owners through the years. 

Checking for a 1940 US Census or WWII draft registration or a local phone or farm directory with the farm owner's name will help me guesstimate a 1950 address.

Very quickly, I found WWII draft registration cards for one of the owners, John Lyman, and his son. But no street address, only the town and county names.

In the 1940 US Census, the Lyman family was living on Center Street, no house number. John Lyman told the enumerator he had his own business, managing Lyman Farm. Also, the Census asked whether the address is a farm and the enumerator has written "yes." So now I'll try Center Street as a starting point for the ED Finder.

Next: Use ED Finder to narrow down browsing possibilities

In the Unified Census ED Finder (be sure it's set for 1950), I entered Connecticut as the state and Middlesex as the county. Middlefield wasn't listed as a town, so I chose "Other" and typed in Middlefield.

The result is shown at top. No streets available, but three possible EDs to browse.

But wait. See the words "More details" on a link to the right of the three ED numbers?

When I clicked, I saw this table of street boundaries. Helpful hints!

Looking for a better street address

Before I can narrow down the EDs, I still need to know where Center Street is in Middlefield. Consulting maps, I found it's no longer a street in that town, even though it may have been a street in 1950. 

NOTE: You may find this situation if your ancestors lived in rural areas. Some towns made an effort to provide both street names and house numbers so emergency services could find anyone if necessary. Having a street address also meant the tax collector could locate a particular property. Not all areas have street addresses, to this day. Also, street names do change from time to time, especially as areas become more developed.

I conducted an online search for "list of streets in Middlefield, CT" and came across this contemporary listing:

No Center Street listed. But there is a Lyman Road! Hmm.

I reread the history of Lyman Orchards and learned that the huge farmhouse was converted to a wedding venue 20+ years ago. The address today is: 5 Lyman Road. 

Evaluating ED details to narrow the focus

With that in mind, I'm evaluating the details of the three possible EDs for farmer John Lyman. Two seem to be focused on Middletown, which is adjacent to Middlefield. I pulled up a listing of contemporary streets in Middletown for comparison purposes.

Looking at the ED 4-41 details, Westfield and Camp are in the listing of streets I found in Middletown. So I'm not making 4-41 a priority. Butternut, Wadsworth, and Cross are also in the listing of streets in Middletown, this time for ED 4-42. Not making 4-42 a priority. Both of these EDs appear to be more focused on Middletown than Middlefield.

Therefore, my educated guess is that I'll find John Lyman and family in ED 4-31. That's the main ED for Middlefield town. Let's see what happens in April of 2022!

-- "On the farm" is Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge for week 37.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post. I have farm families in Montgomery Co, Iowa and Merced Co, California to check. Both are so rural that a page-by-page browse won't be too bad.