Group 6 2 minutes Read

1940 census

Lauren Zerbey

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard that the National Archives recently released an online version of the 1940 census. I hadn’t thought much about it until last weekend when my brother pulled up info on the family that lived in the house we grew up in (built in 1919). I love a good research challenge and instantly wanted to know more about chezerbey.

When we bought our house in ’06, we ordered the 1930’s photo above from the Washington archives. Along with the photo we received a fact sheet of sorts listing the basic info on the home. Between that and our neighbors, here’s what we know:

Our house was built in 1910 and the carport was added in 1965. The previous owner was a man in his mid-90’s who had been a car mechanic and had lived there since the early ’80’s (he moved into a nursing home a year prior to us buying the house). Prior to that, we know very little and that’s why it was so interesting to uncover the census info.

After an hour or so of hunting (I started with our basic location and then sifted through 15-20 pages of entries to find our house), BAM! This is what I found (click to enlarge):

In 1940, our house was home to Carl and Elsa Nelson and their two teenage children Albert and Alice. Carl and Elsa came to Seattle from Sweden, but the kids were born in Washington. (Our neighborhood has a rich Scandinavian history so we weren’t surprised by this.) Carl worked as a laborer at a brickyard and Elsa stayed at home. The house was valued at $2,000.

I’ve often assumed that because our house is relatively small, it had always been home to a single person or couple. But now, a family of four! With TEENAGERS!

When the house was built, there was no interior stair that connected the main floor to the basement. In fact, the dog-legged version that we eventually demolished looks to have been added in the 60’s, so it’s unlikely that anyone lived in the basement before that. So how did a family of four survive in a one-bedroom house? Did Albert and Alice sleep in the living room? At any rate, it was reassuring in a sense. If the Nelson family could live small, so can we.

Anyone else dig up info on their pre-1940 home? I’m also curious if the teenagers (who would be in their ’70s) are still alive and living in the area. A quick Google search didn’t yield much and with such common names I didn’t dig too deeply. 

[Psst! Speaking of small, we entered chezerbey in Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool 2012 contest. You have through next week to “favorite” us and then the top submissions from each size category move on to final voting where the grand prize is FIVE-THOUSAND DOLLARS! That’s 2.5x chezerbey’s 1940 value!]