Monday, August 6, 2012

Little White Lie

The thing about genealogy is that you don’t always like what you learn. The census records are phenomenal for providing just such information along with often unwanted glimpses of truth.

In the 1920 census, we find Jennie Washington (LEACH) LYNN living with her sister, R. Elizabeth (LEACH) LEE and brother-in-law, Lawson LEE. It appears she has a 9-year-old son (1910) – and a newly discovered child, another son born about 1917. Jennie is listed as “widowed,” which would mean that Elijah Davis LYNN has died.

Or has he?

Fast forward to the 1930 census. There is Jennie and her elder son and his wife living in Randolph County, Chester, Ill. Guess who else is living there, too? Elijah LYNN. Wait. He was dead 10 years ago – right?

Apparently not. Instead, in the 1920 census, he was listed among the inmates at the Southern Illinois Penitentiary (now the Menard Correctional Facility). Had he not reappeared with Jennie and his son in the 1930 census, I would have fallen for the ruse that Elijah had died prior to the 1920 census.

Believe it or not, there ARE several Elijah LYNNs living in Illinois at the same time. So, it might also be safe to conclude that the state prisoner in the 1920 census is one of them. Except that his wife had declared herself a widow during the time he was incarcerated but then magically reunites with him by the 1930 census.

What did he do? I don’t know. The records aren’t available online or at least not that I’ve found. I do know that there is a prisoner index in the state archives in Springfield that I should be able to access because the records are only restricted for 75 years. (This case would be closer to 100 years ago.)

I won’t judge. A prison stint had to have been an even bigger stigma then than today (and it’s not all that cool today, either). Makes me feel very sorry for Jennie and their boys though. That cannot have been easy.

So, the little white lie to the census taker in 1920? Totally understandable.