The 1940 Census: Memories

[Editor’s note: Flip-Pal team member Diane Miller shares her stroll down memory-lane as a result of searching for her family in the 1940 Census.]


Recently, I decided to take a look at the 1940 Census images for the community where I was born and raised in Montana. While trying to determine the Enumeration District (ED) for my hometown, I discovered that in rural parts of Montana, many EDs were determined along county and then school district boundaries.

My school district was Eagle Butte School District 14 which was situated in ED 8-17.  The school was built before 1915, about the time my grandparents moved to the community to establish their farm and to raise a family. I attribute my lifelong love of learning and artistic pursuits to the first three grades of school at the Eagle Butte one-room country school. In fact, I was one of the two last students in that school which was only about a mile and a half from my home.

I remember those winter mornings and if the snow was too deep for the pickup, Dad would start the tractor and take me to school that way. I was still very little at that time and I would be bundled up with blankets and placed in a half barrel set on a kind of stone boat or flat sled pulled behind the tractor. Talk about a big adventure!

As a child, calling it a one room school seemed an odd thing – I could never understand why they called it “one room,” especially since it had two other rooms where the teacher lived, plus a cloak room and storage room. How could the teachers possibly live in the two tiny rooms! I did not realize they lived in the school room itself after the students had gone home.

The school room was long with windows on the West side, black (squeaky) chalk boards on the East side with writing examples mounted all along the top. There were also large pull-down maps of a world I was yet to explore. The maps always depicted Turkey a light golden-orange. To this day, I cannot stand the feel of chalk on my hands!

The floors were of creaking hardwood with an oily finish. The finish was kept by sprinkling Sweeping Compound (an oil impregnated saw dust) all over the floor, then letting us run, slide, stomp all across the floor, then sweeping it back into its blue tin 5-gal container. Seems it cleaned and re-oiled the floor. In the back of the room was a big old oil burning heater, used to warm the entire building.

As I progressed through grades 1 -3, the school population dwindled: ten, three, and finally just two students. At that point, the school was closed and we were bussed the 20+ miles to school over muddy, snowy roads to finish our education with many others in a small town school.

* * *

As the 1940 Census images appeared on my computer, my anticipation grew. I realized there were only 46 people listed in this school district. There were fewer in the community than I found in the 1930 Census images for the area. Finally, I found my grandparents! My newly-wed parents had not yet moved to the community and I wonder where I will find them! This is what I love most about searching genealogy records like the 1940 Census: it is so much fun to patch together the mystery of the lives of the people who made me!

Photo: Community gathered in front of Eagle Butte School, mid-1950s. Digital image. Photograph in possession of Diane Miller.


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