Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Census Fun!

A copy of the 1870 Federal Census for Marion County, Oregon fell into my hands recently. Actually, it's better than that -- someone has taken the time to go through the original census forms and transcribe them into an easy-to-read typewritten document, and that's what I was looking at: four hundred pages of names, numbers, occupations, and relationships describing Marion County's residents ten years after Salem got its start.

The first thing I did was scan the columns to find the Bush family, and there they were, in ...North Salem? What?!? The town was divided into four precincts: Salem, North Salem, East Salem, and South Salem. The property that we now know as Bush's Pasture Park -- which the Bush family purchased in 1860 -- is definitely NOT in North Salem. If the family was living here, why were they enumerated there?

There's no mistaking it: Asahel Bush is listed right on the page (M, occupation: Banker, 46 years old) along with his children E. (F, at school, age 14), A.N. (M, at school, age 12), S. (F, age 10) and E. (F, age 8). The household also included a hired laborer named Annio Martin (M, age 40, born in Denmark), a housekeeper named Mary Kezar (F, age 43, born in New Hampshire), and a "domestic" named May Malarkey (F, age 25, born in Ireland). Quite a cosmopolitan setup, for the time!

Poking around through the census, I found that about 12% of households in Salem employed a live-in worker in 1870. Many of these workers were Chinese men who served as cooks; there were 11 Chinese cooks in town, ranging in age from 12 to 26 years old. South Salem must have been farm country because the precinct included 22 live-in laborers, mostly employed by farmers and dairy men. The oldest of these hired hands was 52 and the youngest was 17; by contrast, the average age for a live-in female "domestic" was 17 and the youngest was 14.

Of course, looking at the census figures raises as many questions as it answers. Where was the Bush family actually living in 1870? How long did their servants continue to live with them? How did the demographics of servants in Salem change over time, as limits were placed on Chinese immigration and the city became more urban?

Good thing I know where to find a copy of the 1880 census...

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