1940 Census shines light on city’s industrial history

May 31, 2012

By Christina Lords

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For historians around the world, including members of the Issaquah History Museums, April 2 was a big day.

Executive Director Erica Maniez had her own personal countdown going for that particular Monday, because after finally fulfilling the mandatory 72-year waiting period, records from Newcastle and surrounding towns recorded in the 1940 U.S. Census were released by the U.S. National Archives.

Contributed by Issaquah History Museums This handwritten U.S. Census sheet from the Newcastle precinct enumerated by Emma L. Taylor recorded the ages, birthplaces, employment information, education status and other information for the federal government in 1940.

“It was interesting to see some of the old familiar families, and how the next generations down were living in their own households,” she said. “I’ve noticed quite a few people that I’ve known since I worked here who have since passed away, but I did know some people here that are still living.”

Telling history’s story

The document helps individual genealogists and historians piece together information from the past — including Newcastle’s.

“You can always learn something about your family that you didn’t know before,” she said. “You would be amazed at the tiny little mysteries that get solved.”

The federal government requires a census be taken once every 10 years to determine the number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The first was taken in 1790.

The 1940 data, collected entirely by hand by enumerators going door to door, reflects the economic tumult of the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal recovery programs of the 1930s.

“It shows us the value of education versus the difficulties of the depression,” Maniez said. “I think a lot of people didn’t bother finishing high school because it was more important to get out and work.”

Men tended to have only a couple of years of high school, while women more commonly graduated because there was less opportunity to join the workforce, she said.

Between 1930 and 1940, the population of the continental United States (Hawaii and Alaska were not yet states) increased 7.2 percent to 131,669,275, according to the National Archives.

There were 301 residents tallied on 10 pages in the Newcastle precinct in the 1940 census, with more than one-third of them recording Washington as their birthplace — many stating they lived in the same house as they did at the time of the last census.

More than 100 of the residents said they were born in a different state, while 67 responders said they were born in a different country.

Many Newcastle residents represented European backgrounds, including 19 people who said they were born in Finland, 14 who were born in Sweden and seven who were born in Norway.

Newcastle’s workforce

Most telling about Newcastle’s workforce was that while coal mining had waned from the powerful force it once was during the late 1910s and early 1920s, coal mining was still a major source of income from residents in 1940.

Coal mining work — including people who recorded themselves as miners, washermen, mule drivers and blacksmiths — was the most common job listed in the Newcastle precinct in the census.

Other common occupations listed by Newcastle residents included jobs relating to lumber, such as logging and wood cutting, and farming.

Many of Newcastle’s residents who said they were employed were men, but the two people who listed themselves as teachers were women. One woman, 34-year-old Ester Newman, said she was a maid for a private home.

Aside from identifying the name, age, relationship and occupation of each person, the 1940 Census included questions about internal migration; employment status; participation in the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration and National Youth Administration programs; and years of education a person had.

The Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and the town’s sewer system were examples of WPA projects completed during that time — projects Newcastle residents may have worked on.

Eight people from Newcastle listed the WPA as a source of income during that time — tying for the second-most common employment opportunity with logging/saw mill work.

“We had information before about how many people were working for the government, for WPA and CCC, but this gives us the opportunity to see who those people were,” Maniez said.

The information will help track the migration of residents from place to place more closely, she said.

People frequently labeled themselves as employed under a “laborer or odd jobs” category in 1930, but with the hardships of the Great Depression, that category of worker ceased to exist as everyone looking for work would be eager to take on odd jobs.

“What was called laborer/odd jobs in 1930 was basic survival in 1940,” Maniez said.

Get involved

FamilySearch.org is crowd-sourcing indexing work for the 1940 Census. Volunteer indexers can go to the site and download indexing software, and then download pages to index. The records for Washington are now available for indexing.

On the Web

See a scan of the 1940 Census document and the PDF version of the actual instructions given to enumerators at www.1940census.archives.gov/questions-asked.


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