Was Your Ancestors Rich or Poor?

Last week’s blog talked about useful information in the census about immigration. A lot of people immigrated to the US for a better life for themselves and their family. The census is an excellent tool to see just how successful the individual or family became.

The answer to this overall question is found in several types of individual questions across multiple censuses. However, before you start to look and compare the same question across censuses, you need to know that the questions aren’t always the same or required across multiple censuses. For example, in 1930 the census asked if a household had a radio. Today we might think of a radio as a common item that are inexpensive and plentiful. Why wouldn’t everyone have a radio? In 1930, a radio was a luxury to some and if a household could afford one they usually only had one. Would it be appropriate to ask this same question in 2020?

Other examples of wealth or status include the address of the household, or whether the household owned or rented. Maybe they owned the house, but it was mortgaged. What type of neighborhood, house, apartment, or building did the household live? Some census’s capture or provide clues. Looking deeper into the data, what was the makeup of the individuals living together? Was their extended family or a boarder living under the same roof? This could be an indication that the family was pooling financial resources.

What about employment data? The 1940 census captures data about how much money an individual earned in the last year and how many weeks out the year the person was unemployed. How hard were your ancestors hit during the Great Depression? The 1940 census was the first census after the Great Depression took hold on the US and could also answer the struggles your ancestor’s faced.

The census isn’t always about names, dates and relationships. Looking deeper into the population schedule data in the census can help you understand the luxuries or struggles your ancestors experienced.