I hope you have found your families in the 1950 Census Records. I enjoy adding more layers to the family story and solving puzzles with the additional information. As I was reviewing my immediate family, I found myself intrigued by the data related to the neighbors. Let’s look at how we can use this information.
Neighbors were necessary for the early pioneers to survive. They helped each other build homes, crafted shelters for livestock and harvested crops together. Neighbors were still important in the 1950s. You can view who was living near your people. Were they the same people from 1930 and 1940 census or had that changed? In our region, most of the neighbors were the same but if I compare those names to who was living in the area in the last ten to thirty years, many of those family names are gone from the landscape, The interesting thing about this census and neighbors is that I remember my grandparents talking about those people in the 1960s and 1970s. However now except for the census record and plat books, there is no sign of them. Many of the people who knew them are gone and their descendants moved away.
What does this have to do with your ancestors and families? It may give you clues about what farming was like in the area. Was there a big changeover from the 1930 census to the 1950 census? Was it due to poor crops and weather? Or was it due to the natural order of things? Perhaps that older generation had retired and moved to town. If they didn’t have children or didn’t have a child that wanted to farm, they likely rented out the land. You can fill in that puzzle by looking at plat books. And even though we are talking about farm neighbors, you might have this occur with your own family.
Years ago, I purchased a wonderful book called Farm Lanes of Bentinck from the Bruce-Grey Genealogical Society of Bruce-Grey of Ontario (CAN). Focused on Bentinck Township in Grey County. This book was quite an effort as they took each piece of land and noted the year and land changes over time. You could get a sense of the changes, and, in some cases, the family history was included. It provides both a broad overview of the township as well as individual stories. This volume took years to complete and comes in at a whopping 921 pages! I’ve thought about doing something like that but focusing only on the farms that were once along the main road that ran by our farm. Doing that for an entire township would be quite a challenge. Perhaps you have a neighborhood in your family history that you would like to try that.
Old county histories give you a sense of who the “neighbors” were and by understanding their story, you can find information about what your ancestor’s life was like. There was a big push to gather individual histories for counties when the United States celebrated our Bicentennial but that was almost fifty years ago! My point in all of this is to be curious about the people that lived around your family. This is true whether you had farm families or town dwellers. Were they the same religion or ethnic groups or did they all settle here from another state? I once read that people usually didn’t move to a place where they didn’t know anyone. Try to figure out if you have neighbors who were relatives? Or perhaps they were neighbors who came from their hometown?
Take a moment to look at a few of your ancestors’ neighbors. Do the same names pop up in the family as cousins and relatives? Are the family names the same as back in the old country or the community where your ancestor was born? Remember to include any family stories that mention neighbors. One of my relatives said ‘they wouldn’t have made it their first year of farming without the Joy family’—nearby neighbors that helped the young couple out. Have fun teasing out those relationships by exploring the neighborhood. You can find some interesting layers to add to your family history.
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.