#52Ancestors Week 5 “The Census”

#52Ancestors “The Census”

Week 5 – Jan 29, 2018

By Marilyn Sears Lindsey

The Census

What does Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, only finishing the 9th grade in high school, the American Civil War, being a schoolteacher, World War I (the Great War),  marrying at 31 years old, the Depression, and moving to Santa Clara County, California in the 1920s  have to do with each other?

Map of Chatham, Massachusetts 1858


They all happened in the lifetime of 1 person – Lelia Tabitha Eldredge – (Wed. 7 AUG 1850 – Sun. 16 JUN 1940) – my paternal great-grandmother.

Lelia Tabitha Eldredge on her wedding day 22 DEC 1881


She was the youngest of 5 in the family; she had 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters.  Her name comes from Greek and means “well-spoken;” it is a variant of Eulalia and is the name of a Mexican orchid.

A Lelia Orchid

Chatham, incorporated in 1712, is a town in the southeastern corner of Cape Cod, Massachusetts on what some people call the “elbow” of the “arm” that is the Cape.  Chatham is known as the “dreaded landmark for the sailor with all its shoals and currents.”

Lelia’s future husband, Elkanah Howes Sears, was born a year before her in Dennis, Massachusetts which is also on the Cape, lived his whole life there and died in the same town.  They grew up just 15 miles apart.  Lelia, on the other hand, lived in several homes and traveled across the country several times.

Lelia’s father, James Eldridge, was a sailor who died on Fri. 2 JUL 1858 when she was only 8 years old.  Her brother, Uriah, who was a 22-year-old mariner, came to live in the Chatham house on Highway 28 to take care of her and her mother, Esther.   He married Eliza Moody Nickerson in 1861 and must have moved to a different location because he’s not listed with them in the 1870 US Census.  Lelia lived in the Chatham house from the time she was 3 until she married Elkanah.


Map of Chatham 2007

So in many ways, the Census just gives us a peek into a world from centuries ago but leaves many mysteries unanswered.  It provides a skeleton of a story but leaves us to research from newspapers, diaries, yearbooks, wills and personal letters to flesh out the tale.

On the other hand, our American Civil War is one of the most written about events and one of the most horrific things that happened to this country.  We only had 30 million people in the US then and 2 million of them were soldiers in the North; 1 million of them were soldiers in the South.  620,000 of them died and countless civilians died too.  Lelia lived through it all.

At that time, women took jobs in the factories and on the farms and their children had to pick up all the chores left undone at home.  Lelia was only 10 when the war started.  She probably witnessed children going door-to-door selling portraits of President Lincoln to raise money for “the cause” or picking lint to deliver to surgeons to use to staunch wounds.  The women having sewing bees to make uniforms and sending care packages to soldiers were commonplace.

Many American children took a very active and often extremely dangerous role in our Civil War.  Some worked in hospitals, buried the dead, carried water, ammunition and messages to the front lines, were musicians in military bands and some were even soldiers.  After the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia and hostilities were finally stopped, more than 48 boys under the age of 18 were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery on the battlefield.  How could we have done this to our children?  Never again.

The US Census doesn’t show when a certain event was accomplished, for example, moving to a new house; it just shows that an event happened between the date of the previous Census and the new Census.

When my sister, Pam, told me about the US Census Reports on Ancestry.com, I couldn’t believe it.  How could all that data be available to anybody and everybody?  It was miraculous that I could find and follow my ancestors across the centuries and across the country.

I looked up a few ancestors and saw how many radios the family owned, how much their wages were and who lived in their homes – sometimes lodgers.  There were so many generations under 1 roof; it was just like the Waltons.

So we know that Lelia was a 19-year-old schoolteacher in 1870 but we don’t know when she started her career.  It was common for women to become teachers when they were quite young by today’s standards, but it was the norm then.  The house she and her mother were living in jumped in value from $500 to $800 between the 1860 and 1870 Census reports.  What a nice bit of luck for them!

In the 1880 Census report we find the situation of Lelia and Esther unchanged.  Lelia was still the breadwinner and Esther was still the “housewife.” In other documents we find out that Lelia’s mother, Ester, died in 1903.

Elkanah Howes Sears & Lelia Tabitha Eldredge Sears circa 1910

In just one year’s time though, the situation would change.  Elkanah Howes Sears (Wed. 25 APR 1849 – Fri. 26 JUN 1914) a carpenter and mechanic in Dennistown (as it is called on the Census report) married Lelia on Thu. 22 DEC 1881 and they moved to Dennis.

They had 4 children – 3 boys and 1 girl.  James William “Uncle Billy” 1882-1945; Lewis Elkanah  1885-1962; Lelia Estelle 1887-1970 and Leslie Ray 1892-1954 who was my grandfather.

The results of the 1890 Census was mostly destroyed by a fire in the Commerce Department in 1921 so we don’t have any records for the 20 intervening years from the US Census Office.

The 1900 Census shows that 3 of Lelia and Elkanah’s 4 children are still at home; James William had gone off to seek his fortune and the others were in school.

By 1910 Elkanah and Lelia still lived in Dennistown in a home they owned with their 2 youngest sons – only Lewis and Leslie were still at home.  James William married Mabel in 1906 and they were living in Somerville, MA by 1910.  He was an accountant.  Elkanah and Lewis were carpenters and Leslie was a high school student.  The report showed that Lewis had been out of work half of the previous year.  How hard that must have been for Lewis and the whole family.

In 1920, James William and his wife, Mabel, who was 44 years old, lived at 3 Boston Avenue in Medford, MA in a rental house.  He was a purchasing agent for an asbestos company and Aunt Mabel was a “housewife.”

On Tues. 10 JUN 1913 Lelia Estelle married Harvey Emmonds Dorr.  Tragically, Elkanah died on Fri. 26 JUN 1914 from a pulmonary embolism following surgery because of diabetic gangrene and by the 1920 Census we find Lelia Tabitha (68), living with her daughter, Lelia Estelle (32) and her granddaughter, Lelia Josephine (4) and Harvey (41) all living together in their rented house on Beal Place in Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  How wonderful that Lelia Estelle’s family took Lelia Tabitha in after her husband’s death!


Then the records show a huge change in Lelia’s life.  By 1930 Harvey and the 3 Lelias are all living on S. 14th Street in Santa Clara County, California.  Lelia’s brother, Uriah, who helped raise her died at 95 years old in 1931 in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

There are some photos of Lelia Tabitha back on Cape Cod in the 1930s standing in front of “The Cedars” – the Smalley homestead – in East Dennis.  So Uriah’s funeral might be one of those times.

In 1938, James is an acoustical engineer and they live at 611 High Street in Cambridge, Mass.  By 1944 Mabel is a secretary at W.T. Roberts Construction in Cambridge but they live in Medford.

For a beginning genealogist, the Census Reports are a simple tool that share a lot of social information about families in addition to what town people lived in.  Lelia Tabitha finished the 9th grade in high school.  Lelia Estelle completed the 2nd year of college and Lelia Josephine graduated from college.  Each generation of Lelias finished more schooling than the previous one.  Isn’t it amazing the strides that women have taken so far!  We learn this in the 1940 Census along with the fact that the 3 Lelias live on Cherryvale Avenue in Santa Cruz but Harvey does not.  Every 10 years when a new census comes out, we see more and different questions asked.  1940 is the year we find out about education and jobs.  Lelia Josephine is 24 years old now and a grammar school teacher who earns $1,350 a year working 30 hours a week.  The number of hours that a teacher is said to have worked has always been a sore subject for me.  There’s no way to quantify all the parent/teacher conferences, hours spent designing lessons, grading papers and attending staff meetings.  But we’ll let that subject rest for now.

Harvey turns up on the City Directory in 1939 at 165 N. 6th St, San Jose, CA.  So far I haven’t found any documents explaining this situation.

This great lady, the matriarch of the family, Lelia Tabitha Eldredge Sears died on Sunday, 16 JUN 1940 in Santa Cruz, California from myocarditis.  She was buried on Cape Cod in the Quivet Neck Cemetery next to her husband, Elkanah which brought her full circle in her life- from East Coast to West Coast and back again.

Naming children after their parents seems to run in my family.   Leslie Ray named his son Leslie Ray Jr. who named his son Leslie Ray III. Lelia Estelle was named for her mother, Lelia Tabitha and Lelia Estelle also had only 1 daughter who she named Lelia Josephine but that’s another story…































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