1920 census tells vivid story of Carson City
Name by name, 1920 Census records reveal details of the people who lived in Carson City in the days before paved roads.
One can learn that John Dodson was 51 years old that year, worked as a night watchman for the city and was born in California. He and his wife, Rose, a 48-year-old New Jersey native, seemingly had lived in Nevada for many years since their son Alvin, 14, and daughter Doris, 15, both were born in Nevada.
Alvin, despite his young age, worked as a farm laborer.
The 1920 Census is the most recent census in which individual responses to the 29 questions asked that year are available to the public. By law, census responses remain confidential for 72 years.
Nevada census information about individuals is available from 1860 to 1920 at the Nevada State Library and Archives. The 1930 information becomes public in 2002, but this year’s census responses won’t be released until 2072.
In the spirit of census season, the Nevada Appeal examined two pages of 1920 Census records. These pages tell the stories of 100 people who lived in Carson City 80 years ago.
Specifically, these are residents who were enumerated Jan. 12, 1920, in Carson City’s Precinct 1, Supervisor District 1, Enumeration District 33. A cursory glance at all the pages concerning Carson City showed that the selected two pages were representative of the capital city’s population.
So who lived in Carson City?
Almost an equal number of native Nevadans and immigrants, among the 100 residents enumerated on those two pages. Nevada was the birthplace for 26 people, but 24 respondents were born in foreign countries.
China represented the highest immigration with seven people with Canada adding four. Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden each accounted for three immigrants among the chosen 100. Denmark and England had two and Germany one.
Except for one immigrant, all had come to the United States in the 19th century , most in the 1860s and 1870s.
Immigrants accounted for the oldest person on those two pages as well as the only woman head of household.
Mark Hanson, 81, was a renter who emigrated from Denmark in 1857 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1872 (1920 was the first year the census asked about year of naturalization). He was a gold and silver miner.
Mary Petersen was a 68-year-old widow who arrived in America from Sweden in 1872. She gained her American citizenship in 1878 and had lived in Nevada for more than 30 years.
Petersen lived with her 34-year-old daughter, Theresa Petersen, a divorced bookbinder, and two granddaughters, Anita, 13, and Theresa, 12. All of Mary Petersen’s progeny were born in Nevada.
With half the population on those two pages composed of native Nevadans and immigrants, the other half were born in 19 states scattered across the country: California, Vermont, Kansas, Colorado, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Indiana, Massachusetts, Arizona, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Utah, Iowa, Wisconsin and Maryland.
Racial distribution was predominantly white, 83 people, with 15 Chinese the only prominent minority community in the enumeration district the Nevada Appeal analyzed.
There was one Indian, Annie Wright, a servant. The one listed black was George Lynch, 77. He was formerly a porter at the Carson City Mint and could read and write. Lynch was born in Washington, D.C., but it was unknown where his parents were born.
Only 11 respondents claimed they could not read or write. These were all young children or Chinese immigrants, though an Irish couple could read but not write.
The jobs performed by this select group of 100 was as diverse as the place of origin. No particular job had more people, though 10 respondents worked for the state.
The census listed 42 different jobs for 100 people, although that included 23 people younger than 20, nine older than 70 and some stay-at-home moms.
The jobs listed were housework, printer, watchman, draftsman, stenographer, carpenter, laborer, teamster, miner, plumber, shoe fitter, physician, bookbinder, game warden, store keeper, superintendent of public schools, boilermaker, dressmaker, saleswoman, newspaper carrier, cigar maker, porter, farmer, vulcanizer, hod carrier, millman, electrician, prospector, compositor, barkeeper, hotel booker, teacher, laundry, waiter, mechanic, reporter at the Public Service Commission, civil engineer, telephone lineman, wheelright, saddler and harnessmaker, driver, blacksmith and lawyer.
The population, on those two census pages at least, was made up more of heads of household than anything else. In answer to “relationship of this person to the head of family,” head was the answer for 33 respondents with 14 names described as wives.
There were 12 daughters, nine sons, three grandsons and two granddaughters. Twenty-one people living in other’s homes described themselves as roomers, two as servants and two as cooks.
Fifteen people of the 100 owned the home they lived in.
The questions asked in 1920 were: home owned or rented? If owned, free or mortgaged? Color or race? Age at last birthday? Single, married, widowed or divorced? Year of immigration to U.S.? Naturalized or alien? If naturalized, year of naturalization?
Attended school since Sept. 1, 1919? Able to read? Able to write? Place of birth and mother tongue for the person, his/her mother and father? Occupation? Place of work? Number of farm schedule?
New questions for 1920 were year of naturalization and the mother tongue questions. Unlike 1910, people were no longer asked about Union of Confederate military service.