The 1940 census records were released online by the U.S. National Archives on Monday, April 2, 2012. The records, which include names, addresses, and income and employment information, are rich in personal details. It was interesting, for example, to find my own grandparents listed in the Chester, WV census and to see my father and his younger brother living as independents at ages 4 and 2. We all know our parents were kids once, but seeing this fact on an official government document crystallizes it some weird way. My grandfather’s occupation at the time was “manager retail drug store” and the value of his home was $4,000 or about $70,000 today. (Based on the dollar rate and not reflective of the property’s actual value.)
Fact: Census data for individuals is protected by privacy laws for 70 years after the census is conducted.
The records provide details into family history for genealogists, but they also are an important research tool for historians. By looking for the names of important individuals from the history of Rock Springs Park, I was able to uncover some interesting facts about which I was previously unaware.
One of the biggest surprises was the fact that a lot of folks who were involved with the park lived in my neighborhood. It’s no great revelation that workers in a small town amusement park were my neighbors, but I was not aware that a handful of them lived just a few doors down.
It should be noted that I was raised in the same house in which my father lived in 1940. My grandparents moved out of this house to the suburbs in the 1960s and our family moved in. My father was a pharmacist at the corner family drug store like his dad , and so our experiences growing up were not all that different. We swept and mopped in the store, stocked pill bottles, delivered hot meals to our dad on the job and passed the same houses on the way. And more often than not, these homes had the same families living in them in the 1970s who were listed on the census record in 1940.
Rock Springs Park photographer and the man whose pictures I have been studying and used in the book , Clarence O. Durbin, lived only two doors down. It was his father's house and Clarence, age 40 in 1940, lived there with his wife and son. Clarence’s dad, Elmer Durbin, at age 59 was listed as head of the household and was employed as a decorator and kiln operator in a local pottery. Meanwhile, Clarence worked as a “heater” in the local tin mill. Photography at that time was just a hobby for Clarence.
Two other Rock Springs Park notables were listed in our ward as well. Alvin and Hazel T. Babb rented an apartment around the block on Second Street. They actually met because of the park. The Salem News celebrated Hazel’s 100th birthday two years ago in an article released in May of 2010. She recalled, “I was born on May 22, 1910 in New Haven, West Virginia in a world vastly different from the world as we know it now. England had a king, the United States consisted of 46 states, William Taft was president and the Titanic had yet to sail. There were no televisions or computers. Heck, zippers didn’t exist yet in clothing. I moved to Chester, W.Va. and that’s when I met the love of my life at Rock Springs Park. Alvin was part of an orchestra playing at the dance hall. We spoke when the band had a break and I learned his band was leaving the next day for Spain. I asked if he would keep in touch and he replied that if I started dating him, he wouldn’t go. Needless to say, he stayed put.”
According to the 1940 census, Alvin worked at that time as a motor freight accountant. Alvin passed away in 1998 at “90 years young,” and his obituary tells us that he co-founded Y.E.L.P. Trucking service prior to World War II. A feature story about him appeared in The Youngstown Vindicator. In it, we learn that the Babbs lived and worked for most of their married lives in East Liverpool, Ohio, but in 1940, at least for a short time, they lived just around the corner in Chester.
Next time - The 1940 Census (Part II): The Finley Brothers and C.A. Smith.