The Stories Found in Census Records
Updated: Oct 13, 2019
As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with history. It started with the history of my family. In the 1980’s at the corner of F & 5th streets here in Biggs, my relatives lived in three of the homes on the corner of that block. It’s where I learned to shuffle cards like a pro, and to knock early while playing 31. My great grandmother Charlotte Nuchols always had a hug and a wet kiss for your cheek. One day I sat down to record the family history, writing in dates, siblings and marriages for generation after generation with her. I remember being shocked that my grandfather was born only a few months after his parents were married. Grandma Char just laughed and said with a twinkle in her eye that young people did the same things then that they did these days, and then gave me a fig newton. Dumbfounded, I suppose this was the moment that I realized that there was a lot more to history than dates and names. History is made up of our very personal stories, and of all those amazing details between the numbers. These were real people, with emotions and lives that were being lost in the dates.
Solving the mysteries & stories of my own genealogy taught me a few basic skill-sets of tracing history. Not surprisingly it has helped me immensely while formulating a history of the hotel! I’ve learned to read little clues available to form a storyline in my head of what happened at a period of time at the hotel. I have to break it down incrementally because it’s almost overwhelming to piece together over 100 years of history.
Early after we purchased the building, I met my sweet friend Marilyn Young. Her family ran the hotel around 1910, 5 years after it was completed. She and her family had so much amazing documentation of this time period in Biggs. I will always be grateful that she didn’t hesitate to share her history with me. From photos to stories, they filled in many gaps from that early time period.
Deciding to research a bit further, I began to look for records after the hotel had opened for business. Census records are done every 10 years, so I started looking for the 1910 books of the city of Biggs. At that time, the Biggs records were recorded under the township of Hamilton. You might remember that old cemetery out by the river, across the road from the after bay? That area used to be known as Hamilton Township and at one point in time was the county seat. While researching this I found out that two other Districts listed for Biggs were the Floral District (8 miles north of Biggs), and Swan District (a few miles north west of Biggs). They were primarily used as school districts within the township, not in census records as far as I have found. After much research, I came across the B Street records. On May the 5th, 1910, enumerator Ida M. Lyone recorded the people that were living in the building at that time. It’s important to remember with census records that sometimes the information given was not shared by the actual renters but by the heads of the household, or building in this instance. Occasionally you will find misspellings, dates off a bit, and occasional guesses, so you really have to just treat them as a jumping off point.
Census records actually give us quite a bit of information. This particular year gave us a vast amount of information from the birthdates, immigration information, to how many children were still alive in the household. If you look at the census image you will see columns across the top, each column tells us information and that is where I got the information shared below. We already know about the Millers, from my friend Marilyn’s documentation. But, we didn’t know who was working with the Millers at the hotel. I am going to assume that the people listed were the long term boarders at the hotel as there were many more rooms available for rent than these few. The 1920 Census listed a much larger list of boarders so perhaps the usage of the hotel changed over the next 10 years to more of an apartment style of living. I do know that bathrooms were added on between several of the rooms in the first half of the 1900’s which makes sense as a more permanent residence for patrons.
I have so many questions from this information… Are the two waitress’ listed, Blanche & Jennie the ones shown in the photos with the Millers? What did the kitchen smell like when Mr. Ler was cooking, and did he ever get to cook Chinese dishes? How did Mr. June get all of the luggage to the rooms, did he have a cart or did he have to lug it up the back stairs by himself? Silly things really, but oh how they fill out the story line.
I’ll leave you with a few of those records below… some of you will just skip the details, but those of us history buffs will slowly create stories out of the names and details. Enjoy!
John & Mary Miller (aged 57 & 60), originally from Wisconsin and Virginia were running the hotel. They had been married for 25 years, and had 4 children. They could both read and write English.
There were two female waitress’ living at the hotel. Blanche Cheney was an unmarried 24 year old woman originally from Utah. She could read and write. 15 year old Jennie Forbia, also single was originally from Oregon and could also read and write.
A Chinese gentleman by the name of Lou Ler, aged 26 and single was the cook on staff. He had immigrated to the US in 15 years earlier in 1895 and could not read or write.
The hotel Porter was a 19 year old Japanese man by the name of Tadaki June. He had immigrated to the US two years prior in 1908. He could not read, but he could write.
The remaining listed were boarders at the hotel.
James & Mary Davis had a total of 3 children, two of whom were living at the hotel. He was a self employed general farmer. The entire family could read and write, and the couple had been married for 21 years.
Robert & Camilla Emerson, were both 35 years old and had been married 4 years. Robert was a salesman, and both could read and write. The couple didn’t have children.
Isaac Titus, a single, self employed, 45 year old traveling druggist. He could read and write.
Gabriel Cotter was a 34 year old liquor salesman. He was born in Kentucky, but his father was from Ireland. He could read and write.
Thomas B Lewis, a 28 year old California native was a drug salesman. He could read and write, and was single.