1940 Census data reveal historyGRAND FORKS — As the U.S. Census enumerator made her way down the 300 block of Division Avenue in Grand Forks in April 1940, she came to the home of Albert and Martha Ruthhoske.
By: Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — As the U.S. Census enumerator made her way down the 300 block of Division Avenue in Grand Forks in April 1940, she came to the home of Albert and Martha Ruthhoske.
She noted that Albert, 58, was born in Poland, Martha in Germany.
They had three elderly “lodgers” living with them, including Tollef Staves, 78, born in Norway, who in those early Social Security days worked 48 hours a week as a repairman in a radiator shop.
They lived in a city without cell phones or air conditioning, without shopping malls or computers. Most people worked for wages, earning maybe $1,500 a year at jobs that describe a more labor-intensive time: soda dispenser, seamstress, clerk, railroad brakeman, blacksmith, mechanic.
The 1940 census forms were filled out in pen or pencil, with varying degrees of legibility, recording how much a family paid in monthly rent, how much each adult had worked the previous week, where they were born and how much schooling they had received.
By law, the forms have been kept from public view for 72 years, until last month, when the National Archives made them available on the internet — nearly 4 million hand-written records, each page bringing to life as many as 40 people and providing intimate details of the way they were in 1940.
“The 1940 Census is especially interesting because it asked questions directly related to the Great Depression,” said Mike Swanson, a University of North Dakota archivist who has been working with the data. “They asked where people lived five years earlier, in 1935, to track how people moved. There will be a lot of migration studies done based on this census.”
Swanson is among volunteer genealogists across the country who are indexing the forms to make them more easily “searchable” by people looking for a father, a grandmother, an old friend who once was young.
“Now, it’s basically a matter of browsing,” Swanson said, “walking” door to door with the federal enumerator.
Walking along Grand Forks’ Division Avenue, for example ...
Clarence D. “C.D.” Locklin, 52, a Herald sportswriter, lived with his wife, Pearl, and three daughters — Betty, 20, Joyce, 14, and Norma, 8 — at 415 Division Ave., in a house valued at $5,000. C.D.’s salary in 1939: $2,400, which wasn’t bad.
Next door, at 411 Division, Emil Flyre, 45, paid a monthly rent of $15 for the home he shared with wife Frances, 35, and son James, 14. Emil had earned $720 on “emergency work” the previous year, as a project leader for the Works Progress Administration, one of the federal relief programs that helped Americans survive the Great Depression.
At 302 Division Ave., Dr. Vernon M. Griffin, 27, lived with his wife, Mary, who worked as an office assistant, probably for her husband. Together, they made a comfortable living of $4,200 in 1939.
Next door, Elof Erickson, 34, lived with his wife, Ida, 27. They paid $35 a month rent. He had worked 48 hours the previous week as parts manager at a car dealership, while she had worked 42 hours as an office assistant. Elof reported earning $1,668 in 1939, his wife $980.
But another neighbor was Peter Mossbrucker, who lived in a garage on Division Avenue. He told the census worker he paid $5 a month rent, and he had worked 25 hours the previous week as a janitor in an apartment building.
Peter was born in Russia, the census recorded, and in 1940 he was 72 years old.
The census pages show, name by name, how the immigrant generations still were so much a part of the city then. John E. Anderson, 55, and wife Hulda, 56, both born in Norway, were doing better than Peter Mossbrucker. They lived with their son, Harold, 18, and daughter, Helen, 20, and Hulda’s 86-year-old mother, Barbro Nelson, at 103 Cottonwood St.
John Anderson worked at a beer parlor, the Paramount Tap Room at 421 De-Mers Ave. He and Hulda each reported having left school after seven years, Barbro after just three. But daughter Helen was a high school graduate, and son Harold soon would be.
Still on Cottonwood, just a few doors down from the Andersons, was another case of upward mobility about to happen.
It’s easy to imagine Dora Jelliff, 36, a private-duty nurse, trying to answer census taker Mary Agnes Myer’s questions as her twin sons, 3 years old, tugged at the hem of her dress.
Dora lived at 111 1/2 Cottonwood St. with husband Theodore Sr., 39, and the boys. On her census form, Myer noted that the Jelliffs paid rent of $20 a month. Theodore worked a 48-hour week as a “stationary fireman” at UND’s power plant and earned $1,320 in 1939. Dora was listed as a private-duty nurse, but no income was shown for her for the previous year.
The twins grew up on Cottonwood, dressing in matching soldier suits during World War II, matching cowboy outfits when the war was won. They were teens in the ’50s, and both graduated from Central High School in 1954.
Tom Jelliff lettered in tennis at UND, earned a bachelor’s degree and law degree there and entered private practice in Grand Forks. From 1972 to 1979, he served as Grand Forks County state’s attorney.
He died in 2003, age 67.
Ted Jelliff Jr. made good, too. He became a teacher, including a quarter-century run at Red River High School. He was passionate about history, served the local Historic Preservation Commission and wrote a North Dakota history textbook, among other works. He could lead a revealing walking tour of his hometown, and he was sometimes called “Mr. Grand Forks” for his knowledge of the city’s past.
Ted Jr. died in 2010, age 74. Had he lived, he likely would be deep into the 1940 census forms, browsing up and down Cottonwood and neighboring streets, finding familiar names and remembering faces. “He would have loved it,” said his widow, Jan, who still lives on Cottonwood Street. “He would have studied it, hour after hour!”
Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.