The Term “Partner” in Census Records

The utilization of the term “Partner” in State and Federal census enumerations during the 20th century offers a unique window into diverse households. An illustrative example is the 1915 New York census entry for Anne Clark and Adele Albro, who were enumerated as Partners.

The term “Partner” was defined in the 1915 Instructions to Enumerators, stating, “If two or more persons share a common abode as partners, write ‘head’ for one and ‘partner’ for the other” (see Image 1). The 1940 U.S. Census instructions echo a similar definition, stating, “If two or more persons who are not related by blood or marriage share a common dwelling unit as partners, write head for one and partner for the other or others.”

Using Steve Morse’s census search tool, I quantified the occurrences of the term “partner” in 20th-century census records, ranging from 78,000 to 273,000 instances.

Census Year No. of Partners
1950 273,958
1940 185,708
1930 78,915
1920 80,141
1910 112,256
1900 98,374

However, delving into these records reveals instances where “Partner” was used for unconventional living arrangements. In the 1940 U.S. Census in London, Madison, Ohio, we find an example of four nuns living together. Sister Mary Charles is listed as the “Head,” while Sister Mary Baptist, Sister Mary Anastasia, and Sister Mary Paschal are all listed as “Partner”. I’m not suggesting this was a four-way Lesbian relationship, but an example of extending the term beyond traditional relationships.

The term “Partner” also offers a glimpse into the relationship of movie stars Randolph Scott & Cary Grant in their 1940 enumeration (see Image 2). They lived together for 12 years in a beach house dubbed “Bachelor Hall” by Hollywood studios controlling their public and private image. The 1940 Census designates Randolph as the “Head” and Cary as the “Partner” (see Image 3). Although they denied being lovers, persistent rumors surround their relationship.

While the term “Partner” in the census is not foolproof for identifying same-sex couples, it has been employed that way by enumerators. As with any genealogical evidence, thorough interpretation and analysis are crucial. The enumeration of Scott & Grant aligns with census worker instructions, but only by considering additional evidence can we accurately place “partner” into the appropriate context.

In your searches, keep an eye out for the term “Partner” as a potential indicator of diverse household structures. Check out the blog post highlighting examples from the 1950 Census.

State of New York, Census of 1915 – Instructions to Enumerators (Woodgate History: State of New York, 1915), page 17; digital images, Woodgate History Library).
1940 U.S. Census, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California, pop. sch., Roll: m-t0627-00256, enumeration district (ED) 19-765, Page: 20B, Household ID 1018, Randolph Scott and Cary Grant; digital images,