Ever since I started my genealogy research two years ago, one date has been in the back of my mind: April 2, 2012. That was the day the National Archives was set to release the 1940 U.S. Census. By law, the actual Census, with names, dates and other personal information, is not made public until 72 years following the Census date.
With current technology and online genealogy sites, we have been constantly reminded of April 2012 release of the 1940 Census. I admit it, I bought the hype. But when the date finally came and went, I was a little disappointed. I think I forgot what I’ve learned during the past two years; Genealogy takes a lot of patience. Just because millions of records appeared online, doesn’t mean you can magically glean all of the meaningful information from them overnight. I now realize that the time is right to go back over all of my old research with fresh eyes, and with a new perspective that the 1940 Census record provides me.
My initial search through the Census records didn’t produce any major surprises. My most immediate ancestors were pretty much living where I expected them to be living, just 10 years older. In some cases there were new members of a family, or some ancestors had passed on.
That said, it was still pretty amazing to see some new revelations and many of the expected developments.
My Grandpa Louie Chavez, who was a 12-year-old boy living in Los Angeles in 1930, was 22 years old a decade later, and now back in New Mexico, this time living in Grants. He was also the man of the house, having lost both his father, Diego Antonio, and his older brother, Mike, to early deaths. His mother, Eliza, was a 49-year-old widow in 1940, and his younger brothers, Benny, 15, and Lalo, 12, were also living in the house. His younger sister, Perla, was 18, newly married and living with her husband, Joe Cordova, also in Grants.
I knew my Grandpa’s father and brother had died before 1940, and I knew many of the details. Still, it was another thing to see the Census record of the family without its patriarch and his eldest son. I also found myself studying younger brother Benny’s name on the record. The family apparently moved back to Los Angeles shortly after the 1940 Census to find wartime work on the West Coast. Just three years later, Benny died in a tragic drowning accident at the San Pedro docks where he was part of a massive effort to build ships for the Navy.
I also noticed that my Grandpa Louie had his high school education behind him and was working as a salesman at a general merchandise store. I mentioned that to my mother, and she said she remembers her Dad saying that he worked for a German man who owned a grocery store in Grants. In the week prior to the Census, my Grandpa worked 58 hours. He worked a total of 45 weeks in 1939, earning $695.
My Grandma Lola Gallegos was also living in Grants in 1940 with her parents, Pablo and Maria, and her cousin, Alvina Arellanes, who was raised by my Great-Grandma Maria. Interestingly, my Great-Grandpa Pablo Gallegos was working as a bartender in 1940. A decade earlier, he was a farmer, and about to be elected as Sheriff of Valencia County. Grandma Lola was 18 years old in 1940 and about to start a family of her own. She married my Grandpa Louie the following year, on Feb. 20, 1941 in nearby San Fidel. Apparently they were expecting their first child, and as newlyweds, they moved to Los Angeles. On Sept. 7 of that year, Frances Amelia Chavez – my Aunt Fran – was born.
I’ve been curious to know why so many of my maternal ancestors went back and forth to Los Angeles during the 1930s and 1940s, while my paternal ancestor either chose to stay, or had the means or job opportunities to stay in Las Vegas during those depression and wartime years. The 1940 Census offers some clues, such as the availability of New Deal Era, public-works projects in Las Vegas as President Roosevelt tried to pull the nation out of the depression.
My Grandpa Carlos Gallegos was 22 in the 1940 Census and his entire family – parents and seven children -- was still living together in Las Vegas, at 1424 10th Street. His father, Luis, was 49 years old and working as a janitor at the high school – a job he would keep for many years. His mother, Victoria, was 43 years old.
Grandpa Carlos was working as a laborer on a Work Projects Administration effort to build a grandstand at the Highlands University football field.
One of the interesting facts I found in the 1940 Census is that my Grandpa Carlos had attended one year of college, while his oldest brother, Clemente, attended for three years. Three other siblings, Eloy, Nancy and Grace, completed high school, and the two youngest, Benito and Arthur, were still in school. While the patriarch of the family, Luis, didn’t appear to have any formal education, he clearly valued education and ensured his children had that opportunity. My Grandma Rise has told me many times how bright my Grandpa was in school. She said she once got both of them into trouble by copying his school work. My Grandpa’s brother, Clemente, returned to college after serving in World War II, and earned his degree. Clemente was a respected teacher and retired after a long career at Peñasco High School. I’ve run into a few people from Peñasco, including a former librarian, who worked with or were students of my great-Uncle Clemente, and they remember him fondly.
Just three years after the 1940 Census, the three oldest Gallegos brothers, Clemente, Eloy and Grandpa Carlos, would fight for their country in World War II. Sadly, my great-Uncle Eloy, my namesake, would not make it home from Italy, where he was killed in action.
My Grandma Rise (Grucella DeTevis) was also living in Las Vegas in 1940 with her large family (parents and nine children.) Her father, Antonio DeTevis, was 47 years old and also working on a WPA project. Her mother, Emilia, was 40 years old and obviously working full-time taking care of the large household. Her oldest brother, Tony, Jr., was an attendant at the State Hospital. Grandma Rise had four years of high school.
Like my maternal grandparents, Grandpa Carlos and Grandma Rise would also get married shortly after the 1940 Census, but under different circumstances. Grandpa Carlos was preparing to go to war. They married on March 14, 1942. Grandpa Carlos had to take leave from his training in Abilene, TX, to attend the wedding.
Now, it’s time to dig deeper into the 1940 Census records, track down and take a closer look at other relatives. Hopefully I’ll find new family discoveries.