Many Chattanoogans and others excitedly look forward to the latest smart phone or electronic tablet when it goes on sale, but a few people have been just as giddy about a part of the past that recently became available – the 1940 census.
One person told me the release of the new census information is a little like the World Series or Super Bowl for genealogists, while an older man said he has been having a blast going through and reading about all his old neighbors and girlfriends in his boyhood hometown.
Some people might wonder why the personal information is just now being released, even though the collective information was made public not long after the census was taken in 1940. The reason for the delay is a 1952 agreement between the Census Bureau and the National Archives not to release complete census data information until 72 years after it has been collected.
It was a compromise between allowing access to public information and protecting privacy, and 72 years was considered beyond the average life expectancy at the time. The 1940 census is the most current personal census information available, and the 1950 census information is expected to become available 10 years from now.
A look at the Chattanooga of 1940 shows a city obviously much different from the city of today. Ed Bass was serving his long mayoral tenure, Joe Engel ran the Lookouts baseball team, Scrappy Moore was the head football coach of the University of Chattanooga Mocs, and the Tivoli was showing a lot of popular movies. And plenty of factories in the Dynamo of Dixie were pouring out products – and a little smoke.
As one who enjoys doing historical research, I have been having fun trying to track down information about a few Chattanoogans found in the 1940 census records. But it is certainly not easy work.
In fact, although the information is available and accessible, it is currently not always easy to peruse, which will likely cause some frustration to a Chattanooga resident of 2012 used to getting information easily with the latest app. The reason is that the original census compilers never indexed the names, so the only way currently to find someone in the massive pages of information is to know the street address where he or she lived in 1940.
For census information on Chattanooga, a circa-1940 city directory on file at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library can usually answer that question. But several enumeration districts might still have to be examined to find the needle in the haystack that is the desired name or names.
And to find those who lived in rural areas without street addresses in 1940, researchers will have to use maps of enumeration districts – or areas covered by a census taker – to find which pages have the needed information. That can be found by looking at one of the websites with the 1940 census data.
An index of names is expected to be available in the future, as the for-profit Ancestry.com is paying workers to index it, and some genealogical organizations are seeking volunteers to help with their own indexing project. The expected time of index completion has been estimated at anywhere from a few months to a year or slightly longer.
A look back at the census pages covering Chattanooga in 1940 is certainly a fascinating journey back in time and reveals much about the city and American society. Census takers that year tried to gather such information as the person’s age, occupation, salary, whether the residence was owned or rented, etc.
Out of curiosity, I tried to find some information on a variety of diverse Chattanoogans. For prominent local citizens, I was drawn to the J.T. and Cartter Lupton families, who were likely the richest or close-to-richest families in town. Their information is found on image 13 of Enumeration District 96-105 in the online census records.
In 1940, pioneering Coca-Cola bottler J.T. Lupton had been dead for seven years, but his wife, Elizabeth Lupton, was listed as living at 1700 Riverview Road just across from the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. Of course, many Chattanoogans of today would know the residence not by its address, but by its name – Lyndhurst.
At a time when the average home was valued at $3,000 or less, the census taker or Mrs. Lupton put the value of Lyndhurst at a then-whopping $100,000. Mrs. Lupton, who would actually die in early 1941, was 68 years old at the time.
Also living in now-razed Lyndhurst was Mrs. Lupton’s cousin, Cleo Patterson, 63, and a 58-year-old servant and native of Germany named Hannah Peschell. The census information said Ms. Peschell was paid $1,500 salary in all of 1939 and had worked 52 hours during the one week in late March that the Census Bureau wanted to pinpoint. According to one online source, the average American salary in the 1940s was $1,300.
Just down the hill at 1704 Riverview Road was the residence of Mrs. Lupton’s son, Cartter Lupton, and his family. That home, which was large but smaller than Lyndhurst, was still valued at an impressive $40,000.
When the 1940 census was taken, Cartter Lupton was 40 years old. His occupation was modestly given as manager of a beverage company, not wealthy Coca-Cola bottler. Unlike that of many people on the census form, his salary was given, however, and was listed as greater than $5,000. That could have been the top income category. Of course, the Lupton family money could have still been primarily in the hands of his mother at the time.
Cartter’s wife, Margaret, was 39, while son John Thomas “Jack” Lupton – who would become a well-known Chattanooga bottler and developer of such familiar projects as the Honors Course and the Tennessee Aquarium – was 13 years old. Jack’s sister, Elizabeth Patten Lupton, was 7, while Cartter Lupton’s stepson, 17-year-old Milton Arnold Henderson Jr., also lived with the family.
So did a black butler, John McCroskey, age 29, and his 30-year-old wife, Letha McCroskey, who was the Luptons’ maid/housekeeper. According to the census information, the McCroskeys made $780 and $728, respectively, in 1939, with each working 54 hours a week in the last week of March.
A servants’ apartment existed across the breezeway of the home, which in recent years has been resided in by the Kurt Schmissrauter family.
A look at other residents in the Riverview area in 1940 revealed that having servants and housekeepers was common.
Among the other facts uncovered by the 1940 census about the Luptons, Cartter had completed two years of college, while Margaret had gone to three years of high school, which was certainly not uncommon at that time. Cartter’s mother, Elizabeth, on the other hand, had completed four years of college.
Also, young Elizabeth Patten Lupton, later Elizabeth Davenport, was born in Florida, while her mother, Margaret, was born in New York.
Moving to a more middle class area of Chattanooga in 1940, a look at an apartment-type facility at 3500 Brainerd Road – just on the downtown Chattanooga side of Germantown Road – revealed a variety of residents, according to image 1 of enumeration district 96-104B.
Living in one unit was 37-year-old James Ayers and his wife, Laura T., 34, a native of Texas. If his last name sounds familiar to older Chattanoogans, it is because he was already heading up an automobile dealership. His census information said that he worked 40 hours a week and was making a nice $5,000 or more in salary. In 1935, the couple had lived in Atlanta, which was one of the other census questions to be answered.
In another unit at that same Brainerd Road address was Alfred Blakeley, 35, and his wife, Dorris, 33. He was formerly from Dayton, Ohio, and was a filling station manager working 52 hours a week. He had taken home an average salary of $1,500 in 1939, according to the census records. His wife was a part-time furniture store saleslady and had made $600 in salary the year before.
One area in Chattanooga that the census records said was an all-black neighborhood in 1940 was the 500 block of East Eighth Street. But it seemed to have a diversity of income levels, which may have been typical of black neighborhoods in Chattanooga at that time.
At 504 East Eighth St. was Strieby S. Smith, 44, who was a black dentist, according to image page 1 of enumeration district 96-31B. His income was not put, but he did work 52 hours a week and his house he owned was valued at $3,000. He had also gone to college for five years. His wife, Aurellia, was 31 and had completed four years of high school, the records said. Also residing with them was a lodger, Ella Grover, who was 68.
Next door at 502 East Eighth St., seven people lived under the same roof. They included 81-year-old head of the house Lula Wafford, her daughter, a niece, and four lodgers. Among the lodgers were Floyd Edwards, 49, who had made $780 over a year serving as a chauffeur 52 hours a week for the Exchange Company, and his wife, Mary Edwards, who made $468 in salary putting in the same amount of time as a cook for a private family.
Chattanoogans of all types were involved in a variety of pursuits as America’s involvement in World War II was just around the corner, and these lifestyles frozen in time and hidden for 72 years are now available for all to see.