Monday, March 12, 2012

Finding "The Help" in Census Records

Over the years I have heard stories about certain ancestors who were wealthy enough to have servants.  I’ve also heard stories about ancestors who were so poor they themselves served the wealthy.  In order to prove these stories correct, I’ve had to find proof in documents and other sources.  Where did I look?

Census records are a good start for researching servants.   The 1860 US Census was the first census to ask the value of personal property.  Although the answers were not always correct (check actual town or city tax records for a more accurate value) this is a good way to find who was poor and who was wealthy.  The 1860 slave schedules in Southern states listed the slave owner’s names (but not the servant’s names).

Starting in the 1880 US Census, all people listed had their relationship to the head of the household listed.  For example: wife, daughter, mother in law, servant, boarder, etc.  Occupations were always listed since 1850, but this will give a better idea if the person listed as servant was working in the home as a personal servant, or a family member working outside the home as a servant.  Remember that only live in servants would be listed in a census.

Here are some examples:

1900 Federal Census, Salem, Massachusetts
A Frank Hitchings, Head, Oct 1842,  age 57, married at age 35, b MA, father b. MA, mother b. MA, Deputy Collector Customs,
Annah L, wife, Nov. 1845, age 56, married at age 35,
Mabel, daughter, May 1881, age 19, at school
Isabella Ayers, servant, May 1850, age 50, widowed, domestic
[Abijah Franklin Hitchings  (1841 – 1910) is my Great Great Grandfather born in Salem, Massachusetts.  You can see that Isabella Ayers is their servant, not related, living in the same home.  He was considered a leading citizen in town, with a prestigious occupation and at least one servant listed in all his census records.]

1851 British Census
Hamlet of Warrington, Northampton, England
#3 Mill Lincoln Road
William Pask, head, age 51, miller, born at Cambridge, Thorney
            Mary, wife, age 56, born at Northampton, Peterborough
            Maria, sister, age 40, born at Cambridge, Thorney
Fanny Turns, servant, age 27, general servant, born at Northampton, Longthorp
Obed Warren, servant, age 22, miller, born at Northampton, Naseby
[Obed Warren (1828 – 1891) is my Great Great grandfather born in Naseby, Northhampton, England.  When he was young he was apprenticed to a miller, and in subsequent censuses he listed as a corn miller in Naseby, and later as a “commercial traveler” (traveling salesman) when he removed to the city of Leeds in Yorkshire later in life.]

1860 Federal Census, Kingston, New Hampshire
Joseph C. Goodrich, age 28, M, farmer, b. Maine
Elizabeth, age 29, F, b. NH
Joseph C., age 5, M, b. NH
Frank M., age 2, M, b. NH
LeForest, 2/12, M, b. NH
Daniel Colcord, age 40, M, bar keeper, b. NH
Warren Allen, age 30, M, hostler, b. MA
Irena Wilkinson, age 15, servant, b. NH
[Irena AKA Anna Wilkinson (1845 – 1877) is a distant cousin, and she was enumerated in the household of Joseph Goodrich, farmer, in Kingston, not in her parent’s household.  The enumerator wrote HOTEL in large letters beside this household, so perhaps the wife ran a boarding house?  I have found many, many teenaged or unmarried family members spread across New England as servants, farm hands, or even as mill workers, living in other households.   This also is true for divorced or widowed women (see below).  If a family member is missing, you might try an all county, or all state or all region search (I've found missing Maine and New Hampshire teens working as servants, hired men, farm hands, etc. as far away as Lowell and Boston).]

1910 Federal Census
Doane, William, head, M, W, age 75, S, b. Maine, father b. Maine, mother b. Maine, own income,
Wilkinson, Abbie A., housekeeper, F, w, age 59, wd, mother of 1, b. Maine, father b. Maine, mother b. Maine, housekeeper, private family
[Abbie Angie Clement, b. 1849 in Bangor, Maine, was married to Edwin Otis Wilkinson.  They lived in Revere, Massachusetts after they were married in 1873.  In 1910 he shows up alone in the census and Revere City directories, and she is back in Maine as a “widow”.  There is probably a good story here, but I have no idea what happened.  Apparently the marriage ended, and perhaps there was a divorce although I have never found a divorce record in either state.]

1930 Federal Census, Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts
Tripp, Edward, Head, age 45, b. Mass, father b. Maine, mother b. Irish Free State, colored leather manufacturer
            Lillian, wife, age 22, b. Mass, father b. Mass, mother b. Mass
            Barbara, daughter, age 2 6/12
            Lorraine, daughter, 1 10/12
Muriel, Herrick, servant, age 16, b. Mass, father b. Mass, mother b. Mass, servant, private home
[Muriel Herrick is my grandmother’s first cousin.  She is also the granddaughter of Abijah Franklin Hitchings listed above with his own servants in 1900.  This only shows how the Great Depression hit the family.  I guess Great Great Grandfather Hitchings didn’t leave a legacy to prevent his granddaughter from going into service.  She was not a servant long, because she was married by the end of 1930 a few weeks after her seventeenth birthday.  According to her daughter “Yes, she actually worked cooking. My Mom, who hated cooking. She has told us the story many times about how she took that job, totally unskilled and how she managed to "fake" her way through it. Armed with a cook book, and as she liked to say "with a tongue in her mouth" she would check with the lady of the house to see if she had preferences for how certain things were made and would wing it from there. She did not work after she was married.”]

Although census records are not the only place to look for servants, census records leave a very good description of the status of a household on the day the enumerator knocked on the door.  You can see they also show the ups and downs of the economy, too, as in the case of the Hitchings family.  Other good places to look are in Census slave schedules, town histories, tax records, and in poor farm and town poor records. For slaves you can look in tax, probate records and deeds.  Indentured servants can be found in town records, passenger lists on ships and other ship registers.  Biographies, journals, letters, alumni records, yearbooks, and county “brag books” of prominent people will sometimes list if they had servants, but often they are unnamed.

 Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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