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On a spring day in 1940, census taker Joseph D Donohue walked into a Manhattan neighborhood to begin his official enumeration for the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Did he know beforehand that he would be knocking on the doors of some of the most famous people of his time to ask them some very personal questions? As he made his way through the townhomes and apartment buildings in this Midtown East neighborhood from April 2nd through the 11th, did he realize the greatness in some of the less familiar faces he encountered?
I spent some time this past week going page by page through this Beekman Place enumeration district. As I “virtually” walked up and down the streets with Joseph Donohue, I was amazed at the dozens of familiar names and occupations I came across in just forty-three images. I wondered if there was another single neighborhood in all of America with so many rich stories to tell.
Here are just a few of the people I encountered:
- Gregory Abbott – Voice of the Paramount news reels
- Max Abramowitz – Architect responsible for Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center
- Frank St Leger – Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera
- Theodore Straetter – Band leader for The Ted Straetter Orchestra
- John P Caffey – The “Father of Pediatric Radiology”
- Carveth Wells – One of the most famous authors and lecturers on the “expedition circuit”
- Earl Tappan Stannard – President and CEO of Kennecot Copper
- Leland Macphail – Executive for Major League Baseball
- Henry Bristol – President of Bristol-Meyer Pharmaceutical Company
- William F Carey – Worldwide industrial leader, rebuilt Madison Square Garden
- John D Rockefeller III – Philanthropist
- John D Rockefeller IV – Became governor of West Virginia, now senior Senator from WV
- Ellen Biddle Shipman – National renowned landscape architect
- Kathrine McClintic – Actress, dubbed the “First Lady of Theater”
- William Paley – CEO of CBS
- David Wayne – Actor, won the first ever Tony Award
- William Rose – Theatrical producer and nightclub owner
- Eleanor Holm – Olympic swimmer and gold medalist
- Macdonald Carey – Radio actor, later famous for Days of Our Lives
- Finis Farr – Author, Margaret Mitchell biographer
Over the past two months, I have loved getting to know neighborhoods of people across the country as I scroll through one image after another looking for just the right address, hoping the people I am looking for will still be living there. I discovered treasures, not just in New York, but in hometowns where my own family lived – Green Forest, Arkansas; Lehi, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Cousins and dear friends living on the same block. Influential neighbors and business associates. Even a few people who would one day make an indelible mark on the world. As fun as neighborhood visits have been, how frustrating it has been when the person I was looking for did not live where I expected them to be living. How many hours have I spent scrolling through enumeration districts only to find that the address I need seems to have been missed entirely?
Early this morning, Ancestry.com released a complete index of more than 13 million names found in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census for the state of New York. I am so excited to be able to search these records to find the exact person, the exact family, I am looking for with just a few keystrokes in a search box.
Of course, not everyone that lives in New York, lives in New York City. And not every person you are looking for is going to be living there in 1940. So, to help you with your important New York family history research, Ancestry.com has also released three other record collections.
Ancestry.com has partnered with the New York State Archives to publish the 1925, 1915 and 1892 New York State censuses. Both the 1925 and 1915 censuses are digitized and available for the first time online, and along with the 1892 state census, provide the next step for discovery beyond the revelations of the 1940 Federal Census. These censuses are unique because they fall in the interim years between federal censuses. For example, between the 1910 and 1920 federal censuses, New York experienced a population surge of 1.3 million residents due to heavy immigration. The 1892 state census provides information that was lost when the 1890 U.S. Federal Census was damaged and destroyed by fire in 1921. These state census records may be the first glimpse many of us get of our ancestors as they arrive in this country.
So, have fun searching these amazing new resources! But, just because we’ve made it so easy to find your ancestor with a quick search of these indexed records, don’t forget to “take a walk” once in a while through their neighborhoods and towns. You never know who else you might discover. What other rich stories are waiting to be told?
Until next time – Have fun climbing your family tree!