My parents’ game plan during the 1950 US census

Sepia Saturday 618. Third in a series about family history discoveries in the recently released 1950 U.S. census.

I was surprised to find myself — at age 2 months — living at 45 Grand St. in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y. during the 1950 US census. Even more surprising was that none of the adults were working outside the home at the time. So, what was the story?

Fortunately, I interviewed my mom and dad years ago and they each told me their version of that time in our family’s life.

Their recounting formed the back story of an earlier series “Whispering Chimneys: My Altamont Childhood” — and now helps explain some 1950 census details.

1950: On the porch. at 45 Grand St., Gloversville, N.Y. There I am in the arms of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence around the time of the 1950 US census — blissfully unaware of my parents’ plans to move to a large house and start a family business. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Dreaming of a family business

According to my parents, Norm and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau, after I was born they and my maternal grandparents, Tony and Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, decided to buy a large house, move in together and start a family business. Sounded like a plan…sort of.

“We didn’t really know what kind of business, just something we could earn money at,” Dad told me.

My parents lived out-of-state then, and I was an infant. But Dad quit his job and they headed back to upstate New York where they’d grown up.

“I can hardly believe it now,” Dad said. “There I was, twenty-six with a wife and a baby, and I was essentially unemployed.” That’s how he ended up listed as “other” in the 1950 US Census — since he was jobless, but looking for work.

Even more amazing, Mom was on board with this scheme.

1950: On my maternal grandfather’s lap in Gloversville, N.Y. My grandfather and my dad were listed as “other” in the 1950 census because they were “looking for work” — as in, planning a family business. Scan: Molly Charboneau

Along for the ride

“We packed you in a picnic basket and off we went,” Mom told me. A picnic basket? I asked.

“Actually, it was a wicker bassinet you could put in the car,” she explained. “Everyone used them back then.”

Our first destination was my maternal grandparents’ house in  Gloversville, N.Y. — my mom’s home town. That’s how I ended up living at 45 Grand St. in Gloversville at census time and spending my first Christmas there in 1950.

Meanwhile,  my parents started shopping around for a home/property big enough for the five us and the future family business. They looked in towns near Gloversville, but the houses were small for the price.

A spacious farmhouse beckons

So they widened their search into the countryside around the Albany-Schenectady area, and that’s when they found the farm in Altamont, N.Y.

1954: Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

Dad captured their excitement in an essay he wrote years later.

A young family came upon one of these mansions and was hypnotized by its ten acres of land, big red barns, and a few tourist cabins. They could find so many possibilities that they could not wait to own this historical marvel. This was the start of the great adventure!

So they bought the farm and named it Whispering Chimneys — the first home I remember. Thanks to the 1950 US census, I now know that the road to the farm led through my earlier childhood home in Gloversville, N.Y.

Up next: Eighth Blogiversary and the family stories just keep coming! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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17 thoughts on “My parents’ game plan during the 1950 US census”

  1. How fortunate to have heard the back story before the census release. Your parents were very brave! I absolutely love that photo of you and your gorgeous home.

  2. Another terrific family history story! I love that you’ve created a new series about your discoveries in the 1950 census! Kudos to you for making sure you interviewed family, very important! 🙂

  3. I haven’t even taken a look at the 1950 census yet! I can’t believe it. You are giving me incentive with your story. Lovely photographs too.

  4. I love the name “Whispering Chimneys”. I hope you’ll be able to tell us how they happened on that name, and of course I’m looking forward to learning what they did with the place. The house looks great!

    1. Thanks so much! I always loved the star window at the roof peak — and it was certainly grander than anywhere they had all previously lived. More to come.

  5. Thanks for another terrific story. It’s interesting to compare your family’s history with the pathways taken in my family. For many people the choice between an urban or a rural life, or between being a laborer or a business/tradesman, is influenced by family traditions. My dad grew up in a poor Maryland farming family and was raised by his grandmother. When he was given an opportunity to go to college using an ROTC army scholarship I think he saw a chance to break a pattern that had been part of his family for generations. But I can easily imagine what his life would have been like if after high school he had followed the farming life that was expected of him. My mother delayed using her teaching degree by almost 20 years, but when she finally took up teaching elementary art, she had such a real passion that her dedication inspired several cousins to choose a teaching career too.

    1. You are so right about the parallels and traditions. Although the Glovesville’s leather industries were automated, my parents and grandparents came up in the era of mom-and-pop stores and small businesses before supermarkets and big box stores were even thought of. So that’s where they pinned their hopes. And like your mom, my mother also delayed her full-time music teaching career until we youngsters were at least in grade school — and went full steam ahead once she was an empty nest-er.

  6. What a grand farmhouse!

    Every week I click the link to your blog and wonder what story you’ll share. Looking forward to learning what job your father got.

  7. What great photos of you with both your grandparents. And I can’t wait till you talk about the new adventure they and your parents ventured into!

  8. It’s so good to have the backstory! You could never imagine what was going on if you were only able to check in on your family 10 years later in the next census.

    Such nice photographs with your grandparents!

    1. Thanks, Kristin, and so true. I feel bad for my classmates with late-1950 birthdays because they will indeed have to wait.

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