Census Records

Genealogists use census records to track individuals and families over time and place. Finding an ancestor living with the same partner over subsequent census records is a good clue that they were in a committed relationship. An example from last month’s blog is Willa Cather.

Willa was a Pulitzer price willing author for her 1922 novel One of Ours. Throughout her adult life, her most significant friendships were with women and most notably with editor Edith Lewis, with whom Cather lived the last 39 years of her life. In the 1910 U.S. Census [1] Willa and Edith are living together in Manhattan. They are both lodgers in the house of Mary F McQueeney. Their marital status was single. In the 1920 U.S. Census [2] Willa and Edith are both enumerated as “HEAD” of the household. It is unusual to see two “Heads” in the same census record which is Rainbow Flag clue. Their marital status is still single.

Cather was a notoriously private person. She was a prolific letter writer. She burned most of her correspondence and forbad any publication of surviving letters in her will.  However, in 2013, her surviving letters were published in The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, which shows the passion she had for Edith.

You will not find same-sex couples listed as “Head & Wife” or “Head & Husband” in census records prior to the 21st century. Instead look for terms such as Boarder, Roomer, Lodger or Partner. Look for couples that lived together over subsequent records to establish a pattern.

Next month, I will delve deeper into the use of the term Partner in census records.

[1] “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M5MT-SH3 : accessed 11 December 2018), Edith Lewis in household of Mary F Mcqueeney, Manhattan Ward 15, New York, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 807, sheet 10B, family 222, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1030; FHL microfilm 1,375,043.
[2] “United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJBS-RJ8 : accessed 11 December 2018), Willa Cather, Manhattan Assembly District 10, New York, New York, United States; citing ED 729, sheet 1A, line 22, family 8, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1203; FHL microfilm 1,821,203.

Willa Cather image from Wikipedia Commons.