Tuesday, July 17, 2012

All the Slaves Are Gone, Some Reflections on the 1940 Census

Partial Image of 1940 Census reflecting my mother in Pulaski County Arkansas

Since April 2 of this year, myself, along with hundreds of thousands of other genealogists have been looking at the amazing data from the 1940 census. I was anxious to find my mother as a young woman in Pulaski County Arkansas, a few years before she would meet my dad.  The census was not yet indexed so this required going through the pages carefully noting where they lived and finding them by enumeration district. A kind genea-angel in Arkansas had been going through Pulaski County and he found my mom before I had found her myself and shared the image with me. (see image above)

On my dad's side, I had more of a challenge. My dad was born in Oklahoma, but while he was young, he had lived and attended school in the city that would also be my hometown--Ft. Smith Arkansas. Ft. Smith is a border town, right on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. And in the 1930 census he was right there in Ft. Smith Arkansas, the county seat for Sebastian County. But in 1940 I could not easily find them.

Grandma and Grandpa where are you? 

Well not until Family Search offered the indexed Oklahoma census would I find my dad and grandparents, living in Muskogee Oklahoma.

Partial Image of 1940 census reflecting grandparents and my dad in Muskogee County Oklahoma

However, the search for other relatives in 1940 took me down another path and yielded some interesting emotions that I had not expected to have.

My grandmother Sarah Ellen was the daughter of Louis Mitchell Bass and Georgia Ann Houston of Sevier County, Arkansas.

My Grandmother, Sarah Ellen Bass Walton

The had both been enslaved in southwest Arkansas near Horatio Arkansas, and they had raised all of their children there.
Louis Mitchell Bass & Georgia Ann Houston Bass

From the late 1800s though 1930 I had documented them in the census.

Gr. Grandparents, Mitchell & Georgia Ann Bass in 1900

The feeling of seeing them in the census over the years was special. Knowing that they were both born enslaved yet lived to see freedom and live for many years after slavery ended, always provided me with a sense of pride in their sense of survival and of their resilience.  Finding them together from the 1800s through 1930 was special---they were the survivors. They had survived slavery, lived to see Freedom, and raised their children. They lived into the 20th century and got to see their children educated and live to marry and have children of their own.

But in this year when the 1940 census was released, neither of them was there. Both had died between 1930 and 1940. I was thrilled to find the uncles and cousins thriving and seeing the family legacy continue, but I must admit to a bit of sadness and loss--all the slaves had gone. The survivors of America's darkest years, had now left. The family was strengthened by their wisdom and guidance and the family grew in many directions.

But there is a small tad of sadness to see them gone. I know my grandmother must have missed her own mother so much. I feel that sadness for her, although Grandma is no longer here. And 1940 was such a hard year for her--Grandpa Sam would die later that year, and her youngest child, my Uncle Freddy would also die from a case of scarlet fever. She had to face these events without her own dear mother to turn to for guidance, but that is the cycle of life.

This genealogical journey brings so many joys forth but I admit to a tinge of melancholoy with the 1940 census because with this one line, all of those once enslaved, were gone.


Ms Vicky said...

I feel your sadness Angela.I fear all the slaves on my maternal side are no longer listed also. I have been searching but the real story will come when the index is complete. I will lift my glass tonight to toast them for they are my hero's and heroines..

MissDazey said...

Angela, did you not know the dates of your grandparents passing?

LindaRe said...

Great grandpa Monroe died in 1932, gggrandmother Alice died in 1933, and ggrandmother Mary died in 1937, all were slaves. It is strange how you feel this sense of loss for people you never met when you no longer see them in the census records. Researching them brings them to life.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Yes, Vicky, as descendants of those from who so much was taken including their own history, name and family, finding them in the records holds such a special joy. Yes, they are our heroes!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

LindaRe you are quite right. Somehow seeing them in the records made them live! I now understand the African Proverb, "An ancestor never dies, till there is no one left to call their name." I never met these gr. grandparents, and I have felt over the years that I was able to hold them close as I looked at the census records. And seeing them gone in 1940, I almost feel the loss that their children must have felt. Yes, all the slaves are gone.......

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Miss Dazey,
Yes, actually I knew that they had died in the 1930s. I have in fact visited their graves.
But this was an emotion that surprised me as well. The joys of seeing loved ones who went through so much and who survived, and then even though I know they both died in the 1930s, seeing their children all grown with their own families, and they were no longer there. They had been the very anchor around whom the family had been structured since the 1870s, and as I found the community with the great aunts and uncles, I felt their absence. And yes a bit of melancholy truly hit me, as all of them were gone.

Kristin said...

I felt the same way. Like the 1940 census was the end of the lives of those who I have followed since 1870 and yet also a beginning as my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins began to form families of their own.

Scarlet Fever said...

Never underestimate the power of scarlet fever.

Scarlet Fever said...

thank god there are no more slaves... the only problem now some people still discriminating other people... i hope it will stop too...