Tag Archives: 1940 United States Census

At the Bur in the Leah of the Forest

In a previous article, 1518 Wilson Avenue, I wrote that the 1940 census recorded Lawson Scott living as a border with William and Louise Watts in an apartment in Chicago. To quote myself:

William and Lawson were both employed as “wreckers” in the “building wrecker” industry, with Lawson apparently having left behind his wife to find work (Where was Birley in 1940?).

I have now answered that parenthetical question. While doing research for an upcoming article on someone else, I stumbled upon Lawson Scott’s wife, Birley Bohannon Scott, and their family in the 1940 census.

Lawson Scott 1940

1940 Census, Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas

Birley and her children were living on a rented farm in Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas. Though Lawson was recorded as the head of the household, he wasn’t actually living in Arkansas at this time, as he had gone to Chicago to find work. The encircled X beside Berlie’s name indicates that she was the one who provided the enumerator with the requested census information. Berlie naturally named Lawson as the head of the household because he was providing for the family even though he was actually over 600 miles away. Indeed, Lawson’s occupation on the Red River census is given as “wrecking” in the “building” industry, same as on the 1940 Chicago census.

The title of this article comes from the alleged meaning of the surname Birley, “the bur in the leah of the forest,” which is a close approximation of where Birley Scott was in 1940.


Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. Place: Red River, Searcy, Arkansas; Roll: T627_173; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 65-13. Retrieved 16 February 2013.

The Internet Surname Database. Last name: “Birley.” Retrieved 16 February 2013.


1518 Wilson Avenue

And now, another tale of Chaotic Genealogy, when the records lead us into unexpected directions.

Family Tree Maker recently gave me a Shaky Leaf icon for William M. Watts, a son of James Madison Watts and Sylvannia Bohannon. A Shaky Leaf indicates that FTM has found a potential record match. I clicked on the leaf to review the potential match, and was shown a hit in the recently added 1940 census. I was surprised to see that the census record was for Chicago, Illinois. Upon opening the record, I saw another familiar name: Lawson Scott, who was the husband of Birley Evelyn Bohannon. There was an unfamiliar name, too: Louise Watts, wife of William.

1518 Wilson Avenue

The house number for this entry, and the entries before and after, was 1518 Wilson Avenue, apparently an apartment building.

One nice thing about the 1940 census is that it also recorded where people lived in 1935. As shown below, William was living in Marshall, Arkansas, which helps reinforce that this was indeed one of “our” Watts. Lawson Scott was living in “same place,” which meant Chicago, but not necessarily at this same address.

1518 Wilson in 1935

Who was Louise? I had not previously recorded a spouse for William, so she is a new person to me. I haven’t been able to find any other records that mention her. All I have is what this census tells me. She was born in Massachusetts around 1920. In 1935, she was living in Boston, which suggests that she and William were married between 1935 – 1940, but where and exactly when? What was her maiden name? She is a mystery.

William and Lawson were both employed as “wreckers” in the “building wrecker” industry, with Lawson apparently having left behind his wife to find work (Where was Birley in 1940?). Louise was a maid in a private home.

William’s Social Security Number was issued prior to 1951 in Illinois, so it’s possible he was living at this address when he applied for his number. Lawson’s number was also issued prior to 1951 in Illinois, but this census’ supplemental questions indicated that he did not yet have his number in 1940.

In trying to answer some of the questions raised by this census, I went to Find A Grave and searched for William Watts. I knew he died in 1988 in Yuba, California, so I concentrated on other Watts there hoping to find Louise. I came across eight Watts buried in Sutter Cemetery in a small town also called Sutter, which itself is located directly west of Yuba. William was there. None, however, were Louise.

One of them was William’s brother, Vernon Lee Watts, and there was a photograph of his grave marker, which gave me his birth and death dates, and also his wife’s name, Mildred. A search of the local newspaper’s web site turned up Mildred’s obituary, which I have previously published.

With one record, we went from Searcy County, Arkansas to Chicago and Boston and then out to California. But, I still haven’t found anything else on Louise.


Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: T627_1015; Page: 66B; Enumeration District: 103-3002. Retrieved 26 December 2012.

Ancestry.com. Social Security Death Index. Name: William M. Watts; Death Date: 9 December 1988; Issue State: Illinois; Issue Date: Before 1951. Retrieved 26 December 2012.

Ancestry.com. Social Security Death Index. Name: Lawson Scott; Death Date: August 1971; Issue State: Illinois; Issue Date: Before 1951. Retrieved 26 December 2012.

Find A Grave. “William M. Watts,” created by Celeste Wideman. Retrieved 26 December 2012.

Find A Grave. “Vernon Lee Watts,” created by Vicalina. Retrieved 26 December 2012.

Arkansas & Missouri 1940 Census Index Released

Ancestry.com has completed and released a searchable index of the 1940 United States Census for the states of Arkansas and Missouri. I did a quick search for Grahams from Searcy County, Arkansas and got a number of good results in both Arkansas and Missouri.  You can search their index for free by visiting http://www.ancestry.com/1940-census.

Chaotic Genealogy

Here’s an example of how genealogy research can lead a person into unplanned directions.

Yesterday, I was searching the website of the Sikeston Standard Democrat for news on Grahams and related families living in the area. There’s a lot of family in that part of Missouri! I saved several obituaries to be added to my tree.

Today, I sat down with the intention of adding yesterday’s findings to my file in Family Tree Maker, but the program flashed one of those little green leaf icons on the entry for Alvin Graham. The leaf icon indicates that Family Tree Maker has found possible matching records at Ancestry.com. So, I clicked on the icon and found matches in the U.S. Public Records Index for Alvin’s residence in Yuba City, California.

The entry for Dora McClung, Alvin’s wife, also was sprouting a green leaf. Clicking on that, I found a matching record in the Arkansas County Marriages Index. “Interesting,” I thought, “that Ancestry has an index to those records, since the actual images can be found on FamilySearch.org.” While I was importing the source, I noticed that at some point I had left myself a note that Nona Graham Lathum was recorded as a witness at Alvin and Dora’s wedding. I looked at the scan I had previously acquired from FamilySearch to confirm it again, then opened up my article on Nona here at Graham Ancestry. I decided to update her article to add in the wedding detail and, while I was at it, to include new information from the recently released 1940 census.

The problem with the 1940 census is that, at present, it isn’t indexed. That means you can’t simply type a name into a search engine and get results. You have to do the search manually by knowing where to look and what you’re looking for, then flipping through the images one at a time until you find it.

To find Frankie and Nona Lathum, I started with the last place I found them in 1930, Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas. I didn’t find them, but I found lots of other relations. I tried next in Shady Grove Township, knowing that some Grahams had settled there, with no luck again. So, they had moved, but to where? I looked at where Nona was buried, thinking that she was probably buried near where she last lived. She is buried in Chinquapin Cemetery in Searcy County. I jumped over to Find A Grave to view a map of where Chinquapin Cemetery is located, then compared the location to the map of Searcy County Townships I have here at Graham Ancestry. It is in Sulphur Springs Township. I opened up the census records of Sulphur Springs Township at the National Archives site and found Frankie and Nona there on the second page of enumeration district 65-20.

Which leads us into the next exciting episode of…

Tidying Up The Gray Home

Today’s tidying was done on the article for Nona Elizabeth Graham. The following tidying took place:

  • Added newly-released data and an image from the 1940 Census
  • Added section headings by decade to make the article easier to follow
  • Added information from Mary Matilda Bohannon’s obituary
  • Added information from Irene Polk’s obituary
  • Added information from the John Henry Graham Family Group Sheet
  • Added information from the marriage certificate of Alvin Graham
  • Updated section on name variations
  • Updated sources.

Read the new version now!

Tidying Up The Gray Home

The following article has been updated today:

The Many Wives of Patrick, Part Three: Mary Frances Graham

  • This is the first GA article to  include data and an image from the just-released 1940 Census! Woo!
  • Added section headings by decade to make the article easier to follow.
  • Added a photograph of Mollie’s grave marker.
  • Added two paragraphs on name variations.
  • Deleted the section titled “Bad Lemons”, as it added nothing useful to the article.

1940 census

1940 Is Coming!

Next Monday, 2 April, the National Archives will make available the 1940 United States Census. While the images will be available immediately online, the census will not yet have a searchable index. FamilySearch and Ancestry.com are both spearheading the indexing effort. See their respective sites if you wish to be a part of the indexing project.

Here at stately Graham Ancestry, I spent the day combing over my previous articles and jotting down notes on which ones will need to be updated with data from the 1940 census. I usually call these little updates to my previous articles “Tidying up the Gray Home”, but I made notes for changes to ten articles, so this is beyond tidying. This is spring cleaning!

I’ve been looking forward to the release of the 1940 census, because it is the first one on which my dad was listed!

What are you hoping to find on the 1940 census?

Nona Elizabeth Graham

The ninth child and sixth daughter of John and Matilda Graham was born on 7 December 1907 in Red River Township, Searcy County, Arkansas, and she was named Nona Elizabeth Graham.


Nona was first recorded on the 1910 census at the age of three, living with both parents and her seven siblings on the Graham family farm in Red River Township.


On the 1920 census, 13 years old Nona was still living on the family farm in Red River with her parents, her sisters Emma and Stella, and her baby brother Daniel.

Meanwhile, over in Mount Vernon Township, lived Nona’s oldest sister Evisa, her husband Posey Collins and their children.  Two farms away from the Collins family was the Lathum family, whose 15 years old son Franklin would sometime begin to woo Nona, perhaps when she stopped by Evisa’s to see her nieces and nephew.


On the 1930 census, Nona, 23, and her brother Daniel, 20, were the last two children living at the farm in Red River with parents John and Tildy, but that would soon change.

LathumGrahamMarriageDetailOn 19 December 1930, Franklin Lathum paid a $100 bond for a license to marry Nona Graham.  Franklin’s cousin Everett Ace Watts signed as security on the bond.  Franklin’s residence was listed on the license as Imo, an  unincorporated populated place in Mount Vernon Township, Searcy County.  Nona’s residence was listed as Kay, an unincorporated populated place in Red River Township, Searcy County.  On 21 December 1930, Justice of the Peace A. Z. Taylor performed the marriage ceremony.  On the certificate of marriage, Justice Taylor wrote “ursey” above the word “Searcy” printed on the form, as if to correct its spelling.


Frankie and Nona’s only child was born, a son named DJ Lathum.

The 1940 census recorded Frankie and Nona renting a farm in Sulphur Springs Township for the rate of $2 per month. Frankie’s highest grade of school completed was fifth, while Nona’s was eighth. Frankie was self-employed as a farmer for 40 hours per week, while Nona was “engaged in home housework.” In the previous year, Frankie had earned $200 from farming. Their infant son DJ had his age recorded as 4/12.

Living with the Lathums in 1940 was a boarder named John W. Heller, age 79 and single. Mister Heller had no employment recorded, but had received wages of $700 in the previous year. It’s pure speculation on my part, but Frankie may have been renting the farm from the elderly Mister Heller.

Lathum 1940 Census

On Thursday, 21 September 1944, Nona’s mother Mary Matilda Graham died in the Lathum home. Matilda’s obituary stated the Lathum home was in Watts, which was not in Sulphur Springs Township, so Nona and Frankie must have moved back to Red River. Frankie served as a pallbearer at Matilda’s funeral.

On 15 June 1947, Nona attended the wedding of her nephew Alvin J. Graham to Dora McClung and was recorded on the marriage certificate as a witness.


On 23 March 1951, Nona Elizabeth Lathum, née Graham died at the age of 43.  She was interred at Chinquapin Cemetery in Searcy County.

Circa 1954, Franklin married his second wife, the widow Irene Jordan, née Polk.  While Frankie and Irene did not have any children together, Irene had four children from a previous marriage.


On 24 December 1966, Franklin Lathum died at the age of 60.  He was interred at Chinquapin Cemetery.

Name Variations

Nona was enumerated as “Nona” on the 1910 census, “Nonie L” in 1920, “Nona E” in 1930, and “Nonie” in 1940.  She was “Nona Graham” on her marriage documents. On the John Henry Graham Family Group Sheet, she was “Nona Elizabeth Graham.” In other member family trees at Ancestry.com she was recorded as “Nona Elie”, and I suspect that middle name variation originated from the L and the E on the census documents, but it could also be a shortened form of Elizabeth. At Find A Grave she was recorded as “Nona Elizabeth Graham Lathum”, but the headstone pictured there reads only “Nona, wife of Frankie Lathum”.

Franklin was “Frank” on the marriage documents, but his signature reads as “Frankie”.  He was recorded at Find A Grave as “Franklin Lathum”, and his first name appears as “Frankie” on his own headstone and on Nona’s headstone. His name was spelled “Franky” in Matilda Graham’s obituary.

DJ told me “D.J.” isn’t an abbreviation – that’s simply his name. That’s why I rendered it without periods in this article.


Ancestry.comUnited States Federal Census of 1910, 1920, and 1930;  Grimes Family Tree.

FamilySearch.orgArkansas County Marriages, 1837 – 1957. Film Number 2048297, Digital Folder Number 4326335, Image Number 00679, Page Number 477. Record for Frank Lathum and Nona Graham.

Find A GraveMemorial for Franklin LathumMemorial for Nona Graham.

John Henry Graham Family Group Sheet, transcribed by Nellie Collins Allen from the Graham Family Bible, 1973.

Marshall Republican: Obituary for Mrs. Mary Bohannon, published September 1944.

National Archives: Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, for Sulphur Springs Township, Searcy County, Arkansas, Enumeration District 65-20, Sheet 1 B,  enumerated on 6-7 May 1940 by Floyd Gibson. Retrieved from 1940census.archives.gov on 24 April 2012.

Sikeston Standard Democrat: Obituary for Irene Bruner, published 27 February 2003. Retrieved on 29 March 2012.

Correspondence with Betty Johnson, sister-in-law of DJ Lathum, February 2011. (See comments on this article.)

Correspondence with DJ Lathum, son of Frankie and Nona, March 2011.

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