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  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  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.
[…] an LGBTQ ancestor left behind a collection of love letters like Willa Cather or Charity Bryant. Or maybe there is an existing dairy giving details of their love life. An […]