Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z April Challenge: O is for Orvin

This is day 15 of the A to Z April Challenge.

is for Orvin Owen Davis, my maternal grandfather.  I wrote about Granddaddy HERE .

As much as my family talked about FAMILY, I thought for sure I knew just about everything about my mother as a child growing up in Shenandoah, Virginia prior to World War II.  I thought I knew exactly where my grandparents were and what they were doing.  But the 1940 Census has me confused.

Some of the columns are what I expected:
  • Address – 414 Sixth St – check!
  • Owned their home – check!  (valued at $2000 – ok, that’s new information)
  • Granddaddy completed 2 years of high school, Grandma completed 4 years, and Momma and her brother attended school – check!
  • They were in the same house in 1935 – check!
Then columns 21-33 are where things go crazy. 
  • #21 – Did the person work for pay or profit during March 24-30, 1940?  Answer:  No
  • #22 – If not, was the person assigned to public Emergency Work (like WPA, CCC)?  Answer:  NO
  • #23 – If not, was the person seeking work?  Answer:  YES
  • #24 – If not seeking work, did the person have a job?  Answer:  a dash ( - )
  • #25 – If the person answered NO to 21-24, indicate if the person was doing Housework, was unable to work, or other.  Answer:  a dash ( - )
  • #26 – Number of hours worked March 24-30, 1940.  Answer:  Blank
  • #27 – Duration of unemployment up to March 30, 1940.  Answer:  52 (I assume that means weeks)

What??  Granddaddy didn’t have a job!?!   How can that be??
The next section seems to contradict the previous information.
  • #28 – Occupation.  Answer:  Manager
  • #29 – Industry.  Answer:  own Grocery Store
  • #30 – Class of worker.  Answer:  Own Account (that is, works for himself)
Doesn’t that sound like Granddaddy had a job?  He owned and managed a grocery store.  How was that NOT working for pay or profit?  (OK, I guess he could have been operating at a financial loss, but isn’t that still working??  Yes, according to the enumerator’s instructions.)

Grandma Davis behind the counter
of the Davis Store on Sixth Street

Let’s continue.
  • #31 – Number of weeks worked in 1939.  Answer: 0
  • #32 – Amount of money, wages, or salary received.  Answer:  0 
  • #33 – Did the person receive income of $50 or more from a source other than wages?  Answer:  Yes

(At first I thought that was Grandma’s salary from working as an examiner in the hosiery mill.  She worked 20 weeks in 1939 and earned $300.  But instructions to the enumerator indicate contributions from family members do not count.  Possibly the $50+ is business profits, interest, or rent.)

Here’s a picture of Granddaddy picking Grandma up after work at the hosiery mill.  On the back is written:  Taken Wednesday, June 5, 1940.  That was just shy of 2 months after the census enumerator had come around.

Unfortunately, there’s no one living to clarify for me how Granddaddy was looking for work when he owned the family business.  My best guess is that Granddaddy was getting out of the grocery store business and preparing to move the family to Portsmouth, Virginia, where he worked as a mechanic in the shipyard.

The people who crafted the questions for the 1940 US Census have given us an amazing picture of our ancestors’ lives.  What a document!  As a 1940 US Census Community Project volunteer, I have helped index census records for Virginia, Delaware, Colorado, Indiana, and Kansas.  This project is creating an index that will always be free for you to search, but it takes time and plenty of hands to get the job done so that it will be easier for all of us to find that ancestor.   Indexing is easy and doesn’t take a lot of time.  I encourage you to go to the 1940 US Census Community Project website to sign up. 

DISCLAIMER: As part of the1940census.com ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for a VISA gift card.
There are Oodles of Ocular feasts at the A to Z April Challenge.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Hi Wendy! I hope you win the card; I'll go check out that website. I loved this post. The pictures of your grandma and grandpa and the store. Do you think he was messing with the government on that form? Or did a census taker come to their home and fill it out? Very, very interesting.

    Kathy M.

  2. I'm pretty sure Granddaddy was an electrician in the shipyard, well he could have started out as a mechanic, but he worked with Cam's dad as an electrician. In fact he helped to train Mr.Pollock. It's a small world...

    I think your theory of Granddaddy seeking work makes the most sense. Especially with all those IOU papers for groceries. It would seem that they weren't able to make a living off the store. Granddaddy repaired cars too, but I am guessing that didn't pay much if folks couldn't afford food.

    Cool post.

    1. Granddaddy had a garage in the 1930 census. I don't know how long he did that. In the Shenandoah history book, there's a copy of an ad from Granddaddy's garage -- can't remember the occasion, some kind of booster ad, I suppose. I noticed in his obit that he had been in Portsmouth 23 years. He died in 1963, so evidently they left Shenandoah sometime in 1940 (certainly after June!).

    2. I would love to see the ad, that is so neat you have the Shenandoah book.

      I wonder if part of the time of that census period is when they moved down to Portsmouth, and then went back to Shenandoah. Momma said they were up and back one year, and then finally moved when she was 12 or 13.

  3. Your posts never cease to create in me the urge to start digging up information on my own family tree.
    I so enjoy seeing the pictures that you post!

    Hope you win the gift card!

    1. You are so kind. Now you get busy with your family research!

  4. After April I need to investigate this census site. I looked at it last night but there were some things I didn't know for me to get the right sector or whatever it is you need to find the name. Right now I can think about it.

    A Few Words
    An A to Z Co-host blog