1860: Census clues about my Blakeslee ancestors’ separation

Sepia Saturday 473: Second in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

When I first discovered that my great-great-great grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee was enumerated separately from husband Zebulon in the 1860 U.S. Census, I thought it might be a coincidence.

Maybe Hannah was making a summer visit to her daughters at census time — as a vacation or to help out with their children — and her entry just looked like she lived separately from Zebulon.

But a review of the instructions to the 1860 census takers made clear that there was likely more going on with the Blakeslees’ separation than mere chance.

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016827352/
A U.S. census taker queries a resident (1920). Was my ggg grandmother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee really living separately from husband Zebulon in 1860 — or was she simply enumerated with her daughters’ families during a temporary summer stay? Photo: Library of Congress

Instructions to census takers

U.S. census takers in 1860 were either Marshals or Assistants who were carefully instructed on how to meticulously enter data on the forms. They had to be familiar with a long list of protocols for the federal population and non-population schedules — including the following guidance on collecting individual names:

8. Individual names. Under heading 3, entitled. “The name of every person whose usual place of abode is with this family,” insert the name of every free person in each family, of every age, including the names of those temporarily absent on a journey, visit, or for the purposes of education, as well as those that were at home on that day. [Our highlights.]

According to these instructions, if Hannah was spending temporary time with her daughters’ families, she should have been enumerated in her “usual place of abode” with her husband Zebulon — not separately as shown below.

1860 U.S. Census – Households where Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee were enumerated. Source: FamilySearch
Location Name Age Job Born Other Info.
Walton, Town of Hancock, Delaware Co., New York Arthur T. Bull 27 Tannery Foreman N.Y. Head
Mary E. Bull 22 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Emonia, 2, and Carrie, 7 Mos.
William Whitney 47 Hired Man N.Y.
Rhoda A. Whitney 29 House-keeper N.Y. Children: Earl D., 10, and Albert  J., 8.
Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee 48 N.Y. [Mother of Rhoda and Mary]
Brookdale, Liberty Twp. Susquehanna Co., Penna. Zebulon Blakeslee 48 Merchant Conn. Household of James Adams & family

Other 1860 census clues

Both Mary and Rhoda did have young children at the time and may have benefited from their mother Hannah’s help — particularly since both the Whitneys and the Bulls were transplants to Walton, N.Y., from the cross-border communities of Brookdale, Penna. and Conklin, N.Y. where they lived in 1856.

But what would necessitate a stay long enough to make this Hannah’s “usual place of abode” in 1860?

https://pixabay.com/photos/sign-sale-plot-ground-1279558/
A sign of hard economic times? Did an economic downturn around 1860 prompt the separation of my ggg grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee? Photo: brenkee/pixabay

Also puzzling is why my great-great-great grandfather Zebulon was boarding with another family rather than living in the house he owned as late as 1858 — which is shown, along with his store, on a map of Bookdale, Penna.

Might the couple have fallen on hard economic times — requiring sale of their home and Zebulon staying behind to run the store while Hannah went to live with their daughters’ families?

Maybe the same difficult circumstances and a search for work were what prompted the the Bulls and Whitneys to move to Delaware County in the first place.

Time to look into what was going on around 1860 that might explain some of these unusual developments.

More on this Blakeslee mystery in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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18 thoughts on “1860: Census clues about my Blakeslee ancestors’ separation”

  1. Ah, these puzzles keep us digging away. I hope you have a Newspapers. com subscription. I’m finding lots of answers in there for my family lines, but also uncovering new mysteries to solve.

    1. Thanks, Laura, and a good point about not jumping to conclusions without delving into all the details of available family history research.

  2. I had always taken it that the census was where you were on the night not where your usual abode was. Interesting but as you say how to define usual, if staying with a daughter for a month was that usual.

  3. I hope you can find some conclusive evidence one way or the other. Second guessing is fun, but nothing you can really count on which can leave you wishing!

  4. Reading the instructions for the census takers is important, but I don’t always do it. However, doing so answered the question of how a woman was a widow when her husband was listed in the household. That year they listed anyone who had died during the year.

    1. I had a similar experience with a collateral relative’s farm, which “disappeared” between censuses. Turns out the instructions for the later census only called for enumerating larger farms — so his farm was still there, just too small to be counted.

  5. This is a fascinating mystery. I’ve not seen census takers instructions before, and the 1860 census was of special historic importance. They are surprisingly clear and methodical, especially when it came to the many qualifications for recording the count. The varieties of information on handicapped people, foreigners, and slaves particularly was very interesting to read. And think of the poor clerks in Washington who undertook the task of compiling the total accounts during the start of the war!

    1. Thanks, Mike. I don’t always read the instructions, but in this I case wanted to be sure I was examining all the evidence to try to solve the mystery.

  6. Interesting! I don’t usually read the census instructions, but they do give valuable information, so I’ll try to do better next time! Looking forward to your next post!

  7. What an interesting line of thought. And I can’t wait to see what you’ve concluded. I have some census data where my grandmother (as a teen) was listed in 2 places with her sister in 1900. So her Uncle and Aunt must have thought she was living with them most of the time!

    1. Thanks, Barbara. Census taker error can never be entirely ruled out when anomalies occur — I’ve even had relatives listed with the next door neighbor’s surname! But in this case, more seems to be going on.

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