The world of genealogy, specifically researching one's own family history, holds many surprises, discoveries, and more information at which you could shake a family tree. Er, at which you could shake a tree. Snicker...
In the first installment of Hunting Humans, we took a long look at the United States census. A seemingly dry source of information, it is loaded with realities with which to counter many a lively family story — or that can kick life into what was previously thought to be a boring story.
I've found, via the census, a few of my family accounts about long, lost relatives to be most untrue. While the census may have its errors (to enumerate is human), a particular person of a particular age found in a particular geographical location when said to have been elsewhere is not one of them. What wasn't told at the dinner table was often told to the census enumerator.
Case in point from my mother's side: my great-Aunt Odessa. As related to me, Odessa ran away as a pregnant, unwed teen with an attitude problem and a pronounced distaste for her mother (my great-grandmother). The latter may in fact be true as my great-grandmother babysat me many times. That woman was hell on wheels, and I don't mean that kindly. I was further told that Odessa's father (my great-grandfather) met an untimely demise at the elusive hands of my great-grandmother (shh!), and that this had something to do with why Odessa ran away.
The census says my great-grandfather was not dead but rather alive and kicking in another state. He had remarried a woman with three children, and Odessa was living with them. If she was pregnant, no child resulted that showed up in the census as hers; but then the census doesn't ask every question (back-alley abortions, unofficial adoptions, etc.,) and no one has to answer every question posed to them.
Curiously, the story my family didn't want me to know is so much more benign than what they told me.
My great-grandfather and his new wife were the real secret-keepers. In the 1930 census, they both list themselves as being on their first marriage and married for 24 years. We could say the enumerators of both 1920 and 1930 were wrong, or we could say someone(s) had something up their sleeves. The 1920 census clearly lists my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother, and Odessa all in the same home.