Who Lived in Your House in 1940?

Here’s a splendid diversion if you’re a data nerd, a history buff, or even just like good detective work: Tell the story of the family that lived in your house in 1940. 

A bit more background.  If you are in the United States, you probably remember participating in the Decennial Census in 2010.  These forms are kept confidential for 72 years—roughly an average American’s life span.  But this same rule means that today (actually, a couple of days ago), the 1940 Census results became public information.  The good folks at the National Archives have scanned all of these census forms, and put them all online. With a bit of work, you should be able to find your house—or if you are in a newer neighborhood, perhaps a neighboring house.

My friend Sue Dynarski alerted me to all this, and issued the 1940 Census Challenge.

It took me a while, but I found my house.  It was home to three African-American families (or, in the words of the 1940 census, “Negroes”).  Multiple families in a dwelling was actually pretty common in Philadelphia, with each floor of the brownstone occupied by separate families. 

The three families provide an interesting snapshot of Depression-era Philadelphia.

First, the Chisom’s, who had moved to Philadelphia from Blackville, South Carolina. Neither Robert Chisom (age 47) nor his wife Ina (age 38) had any formal education.  He was working as a laborer for the city, and earned $800 (which is equivalent to $13,000, today).  She was a housewife. Their son Leroy (age 17) had attended school until the fourth grade, and was looking for his first job.  But in the wake of the Great Depression, he had been unemployed for over two years. His sister Colly (age 9) was still in the 3nd grade. 

Second, were Paul and Lillian Evans (age 33 and 32), who were also from Blackville. Despite the fact that Lillian was the better educated of the pair—she had a sixth grade education, while Paul only completed through to the second grade), consistent with the gender norms of the day, Lillian stayed at home.  Paul also had trouble finding work, but had been provided public “emergency work” as a laborer on a government project.  They were trying to raise their 9-year old daughter Evsilie (who was in the 2nd grade), despite only meager earnings of $60 over the previous year (or $1,000 in today’s dollars). 

Third,  Samuel and Lullu Rose (aged 39 and 37) were somewhat more educated, as they had completed the seventh and fourth grades, respectively.  Paul had also been unemployed for several years, and had previously worked as a laborer doing road construction. Given his unemployment, he had no wage income.  Samuel and Lullu did take in a boarder though, Horace Lodger, age 31, who had most recently worked as a mechanic, but also had been unable to find work over recent years.

Take a look through the archives for yourself.  My friends and I have also been sharing results on Facebook, but please also share what you learn in the comments.  I found it a fun and somewhat challenging research exercise.  And as you’ll see, it’s not easy reading 1940 handwriting!

jess O.

awesome! i live in south philly and just found out my house was home to an Italian immigrant baker and his family ;)

Mike B

The system would have worked better had they used types data entry instead of hand written.


hi, how do you find a person if you dont know the address .


I am not from the US, so I looked for the area where my friends live. Where one of them lives the handwritting is not bad, it is easy to read. But in the area where my other friend lives, the handwritting is bad as mine. Good thing that two years ago when I worked as a census taker here in Brazil we used PDAs. If someday the forms are public - what has never ever happened, well, not that I know and I am a Stats student - people will understand what I wrote.


Looks like my block in Watertown, MA was fairly well-off in 1940. No one is looking for work, and many have a college education. Not much has changed since then, I don't think. I found it interesting to look at the places of birth: lots are from "Canada England."

To overcome the handwriting problem, the LDS Church is doing some awesome work to electronically index this entire census, as well as a host of other projects (WWI Draft Cards, Death Records, Censuses from other countries and time periods, etc.). You can take advantage of their work to look up your ancestors (or anyone else) on familysearch.org. Also, you can volunteer to help index. Basically, you get an image like the one Justin posted above, and you type in what is handwritten in the fields. It's all done by volunteers, and they've indexed millions and millions of records at this point. I've found it to be pretty interesting to do now and then, and would highly recommend it. It doesn't take too long either.



My building on the west side of Chicago was home to the Machtingers, whose 22-year-old daughter Ruth supported her parents earning $650/year in an embroidery factory; and the Pozmanskys--Sam from Poland, Bessie from Russia, and their children Morris, Nathan, Sophie and ...? (Handwriting roadblock on Pozmansky Minor #4.) Sam worked 26 weeks of the year as a laborer, supporting his family on $350.The neighbors were upholsterers, bakers and tailors (with the conspicuous exception of clerical worker Peter Mroczkowski, whose $2135 was twice what the second-richest neighbor earned). Down the block Alex Baron, the machine cleaner at the cheese factory, and his wife Florence had just had a son, Alex Jr. This is so delightful--thank you for pointing the way.


Do you think maybe they didn't know Horace's surname?


I did a search on my childhood home and found the people my parents described as having bought the house from. He worked, she took care of the home, their two children were 2 and 4.

But don't forget about the 1930s Census which isn't online in the same way but the Mormon Church has put a searchable database online:


But unfortunately you can't see the records like in the 1940s you have to send $34 to the Government to get those.


Herman F. Ullrich, 49, his wife Maude, 44, his daughters Golden Joy, 13, and Elenor Jewel, 15, and his widowed sister-in-law Gladys Kenworthy, 38, lived in my house in 1940. They paid $37.50 a month to live there. Herman was a pressman at a newspaper making $3000 in 1939, and Gladys was a chart department stenographer at a wholesale gas company making $1200 in 1939. Gladys previously had been living in Beeville, Texas in Bee County, but I don't know when she moved in with the Ullrichs. I'm not sure how to decipher education. Everyone but Herman and Maude had achieved "H2", and Gladys and Elenor had achieved "H3". Golden Joy appeared to be in the 6th grade.

I really like the name "Golden Joy." I wonder if she is still alive.

The house I grew up in was a much larger and more prosperous household. Albert Braden, 52, (C5) lived with his wife Kathleen, 52, (C4) and his kids Mary K., 19, (C2) Patrick O., 16, (H2) and David J., 12 (6th grade) in 1940. His sons Albert H., 24, (C5) and Joseph C., 21, (C2) lived there but were absent at the time the census was taken. My guess is that they were at war, but they are listed as students, so maybe they were at school. Albert was a medical doctor in private practice, but his 1939 income wasn't reported on the census form. The house was apparently worth $20,000. My parents bought the house from the Braden family in 1978 for about ten times that amount, I think from one of Dr. Braden's grandkids.

My house and the house I grew up in were both built in 1929 in Houston.



H-2 would mean that person completed the 10th grade. H- 4 would be a high school graduate. C-4 is a college graduate,and c-5 is post graduate work.


Fantastic! My current home was built in 1977, but my parents' house was built in the 1920s in Northwest Philadelphia (Roxborough). It took some sleuthing, but I was able to find the house and see that a couple in their 60s, Henry F. and Edna M. Miller. He also owned the neighboring house with a mother and her daughter and their live-in nurse (I believe that the mother was Henry F.'s mother-in-law). Mr. Miller had a 4-year college degree and his wife had a high-school degree (I assume that's what "H4" means). Both were born in Pennsylvania and had lived in that home for at least the last 5 years. This was a very cool snapshot.


Probably not an exercise that will involve anyone but a few east coast urbanites. My house is fairly old for these parts, having been built in the mid-60s.


There was a family renting what is now my parent's house for $20/month. Dad, mom, daughter, and grandson. The daughter was 23 and the grandson was 6, and no mention of a son-in-law...quite possibly could've been something of a scandal in those days, maybe part of the reason they had moved from the country to the city within the past 5 years? The dad was a mechanic and the mom a teacher, bringing in $1200 and $760, respectively, and the daughter stayed at home with her son.

Pam CL

I looked up my house (located in West Mount Airy). It was occupied by a divorced white mother of three adult children, who lived with her and her 80 year old father. All had high school educations, no higher.

I found it very blurry and hard to read the typewritten portions of the form, but the 1940's handwriting was clear enough.

Interesting to think back this way!


Bummer. The house was there at the time of the census, but since it was out in the country, not city, all I can get is EVERY house on the road; they didn't bother to take house numbers/better identification (I imagine not all houses would have had numbers) for rural properties, only city ones.


My area is too new, but I did find my 3 year old father, 9 year old uncle, and of course my grandparents. They owned their own $2500 house and his father "worked on his own account" as a retail grocer. He declined to list his income. He had finished the 10th grade and she was a high school graduate. During the week of March 24-30, 1940, my grandfather worked 72 hours, which looking at other responses would indicate 6 12 hour days, or full time. Others on the same page are also divisible by 12 (60, 48,and one person at 54 (4.5 days?) Interesting, lots of questions about employment.


The two boys in my house went on to inherit their parents paper distribution business. Pretty cool, I found all that out in just a few minutes with an additional google search.

Cameron Majidi

I live in a tenement building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There were 11 apartments for which they gathered data in 1940 - and a total of 22 people living there. (There are 12 units now, but the building was gut renovated in the mid 90s after decades of being completely empty.) All the adults living there in 1940 were foreign born. There was one Italian family of four. Oddly, there were three households in the building where the adults were born in Malta (one of them a young man living alone - he seems exceptional in a number of ways as I'll mention below). The other families all listed the adults as Russian-born. It's hard to be sure, but based on the names, I'd guess the Russian-born residents were all Jewish. Other that the Maltese-born man living alone, all had lived in the same place in 1935. The highest salary listed was that of the head of the Italian family, a tailor, who made $1000 in '39. Many of the other ostensible breadwinners listed $0 as their earnings in 1939. There was a cab driver, and a couple of guys in construction trades who made between $600 and $900. The young Maltese-born man who lived alone listed himself as a "houseman" at a hotel, and he made $988, almost as much as the tailor. That Maltese-born hotel houseman (Alfred Stuart was his name and he was only 18 years old - the youngest head-of-household in the building by a large margin) was also the only adult listed with a high-school education. The Maltese-born adults were the only adults who claimed to have had any education at all. None of the US-born children had education beyond 8 years - even those who were well over 14 years of age.

[WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us '0 which is not a hashcash value.


Sue Dynarskis

I dug into the newly-released version of the 1940 Census and found the house in which I grew up, on Summer St in Somerville, MA. My parents bought that house in 1965, for $15,000. We knew that an Italian family lived there before us; they planted the pear tree and grape arbor in the back yard. From the 1940 Census, I now know their surname was Sacco. I womder if they were related to the Chicago anarchist?

Saveno (57) and Mary (63) were born in Italy; he had no formal education while she made it through fifth grade.  They lived with their thir sons Anthony (36), Vincent (35) and Salvatore (31) as well as their daughter Florence (27), who were all born in Massachusetts. None of the children were married. They kept two boarders, Anna Ahearn (69, single, born in the Irish Free State) and Richard Tighe (47, divorced). Crowded house of eight  adults! I wonder who had my room? 

Saveno was a gravedigger and Mary a housewife. In 1939 he earned $700, or about $11,000 in current dollars. Vincent had been unemployed for over a year. Salvatore worked as a musician in a hotel, earning more than his father ($800). Anthony had steady work, as a clerk in a variety store, but refused to provide his income. Florence worked as a folder in an envelope factory halftime for a few months in 1939, earning a grand total of $216.

The male boarder, Richard, had four years of college.He listed his profession as real estate broker.He had been unemployed for over a year. Anna indicated she was unable to work, but had a source of nonwage income.

The people who wound up listed on lines 55 and 68 of every enumerator sheet were asked additional questions: mother tongue, birthplace of parents, veteran status, usual occupation/industry, and whether they had one of those new-fangled Social Security numbers. Women who had ever been married were asked their age at first marriage and number of children ever born. 

Saveno Sacco was on line 55, so this additional information was available for him. Unsurpisingly, both of Saveno's parents were born in Italy and his mother tongue was Italian. He had an SSN, and had contributed toward Social Security from his 1939 wages.


D.H. Sandler

In 1940 John and Elizabeth Lanahan lived in the house we are in the process of buying with their 3 adult children and daughter in law. John and his two sons were plumbers, his daughter worked as a salesgirl at a department store.

Elizabeth and Helen Marie, the daughter-in-law, didn't work and had a 8th and 10th grade education respectively. John and the married son (John Jr.) had 2 years of college education, the other son (James) and daughter (Alice) finished high school.

The Lanahan family had been living in their current house for the last 5 years, but Helen Marie was living in Greensboro, North Carolina. All of the Lanahans were born in DC or Virginia.

John for some reason earned no money in 1940 despite working 40 hours a week. John Jr. made $1840 ($28000 in today's dollars) that year, James made $1000 ($15,000), and Alice made $850 ($13,000).