1940 Census shares insight from Mayor Kiggins

Former Vancouver leader’s answers part of information released this week

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Former Vancouver Mayor John P. Kiggins was nearly in the last year of his life on April 2, 1940, when census taker Myrtle E. Ackley, a widow who lived in the same downtown Vancouver neighborhood, visited his home to ask him 34 questions on the decennial census.

Kiggins’ census form was one of 132 million confidential personal 1940 census records released online Monday to the public by the National Archives. The public unveiling marked the first time census forms have been digitized and stored online for browsing from any computer. People previously had to visit National Archives locations to look at the records. The closest one to Clark County is in Seattle.

How to get started:

• The 1940 census records can’t be searched by name; an address is needed. If a person’s address is unknown, try to look up the name in the 1940 edition of Polk’s Vancouver City Directory at the Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Details are at Clark County Historical Museum.

• Visit 1940 Census and click on “Get Started,” then, “Start Your Search.” On the next page, select “Search by Location” and punch in the street address. The search engine will spit out some choices of three-digit enumeration district numbers, separated by a dash accompanied by a map and district descriptions. A look at the map determined that former Mayor Kiggins lived in Enumeration District 6-62.

• Once the enumeration district is confirmed, select “Search by Enumeration District” in the search engine. Click on “Census Schedules” to view household census forms.

The site — 1940census.archives.gov — received more than 37 million hits Monday, causing website crashes and preventing access to some maps and census forms, according to the National Archives’ Twitter account. The Columbian was unable to access Kiggins’ record until early Tuesday. The release of details kept secret by law for 72 years generated more interest than anticipated as people searched for information on family members, historical figures, properties and communities, according to National Archives staff on Twitter.

The census forms illuminate the lives of individuals like Kiggins and tell a story about economic recovery after the Great Depression.

Kiggins was one of the, if not the, wealthiest men in Clark County and is the namesake for Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., and Kiggins Bowl, Vancouver school district’s 4,500-seat football stadium, 800 E. 40th St.

At the time of the 1940 census, he lived in the home he had built in 1907 at 411 E. Evergreen Blvd., near the intersection of West Reserve Street. At the time, East Evergreen was called East 10th Street.

Kiggins was asked 34 questions on the day of the census. Some of his neighbors were asked an additional 16 supplemental questions that collectively told the story of the success of New Deal economic recovery and housing programs.

Kiggins’ house was valued at $5,000, according to his census form. The house, moved to another location in 2008, is now assessed at $358,853, according to Clark County property records.

Kiggins lived at the home with wife, Mary, 66, son, Anthony, 35, daughter, Mary H. McAleer, 32, and granddaughter Mollie McAleer, 5. Kiggins reported his age as 69. The form also showed that Mollie McAleer was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and both she and Mary McAleer had lived in the Panama Canal Zone on April 1, 1935, according to the form. The form indicates Mary McAleer was married at the time. Her brother, Anthony, was divorced.

The Census Bureau also sought to find out about employment as the result of New Deal programs. One of the questions asked whether a person had been working during the week of March 24-30, 1940, how many hours and whether the work was nonemergency government work or public emergency work under the New Deal programs, such as the Works Progress Administration, National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. At the time, Anthony Kiggins was the only one in the household with a job. He worked as a superintendent of building maintenance. John Kiggins indicated he had income of more than $300 coming in from other sources. The form doesn’t tell how much or from where, but the income likely came from Kiggins’ many real estate and business investments.

The year 1940 was the first time Americans were asked about their wages. Supplemental questions also probed for information never asked for before, including housing and whether Social Security, a relatively new innovation, had been withdrawn from their paycheck. Women were asked if they had been married more than once, their age at time of wedlock and how many children they’d had, excluding stillbirths.

Searching for people, however, isn’t as easy as punching in a name and city or county. Searchers need an address to locate a person.

Some street names have changed since 1940. That’s something to keep in mind when conducting a search, said Susan Tissot, executive director of Clark County Historical Museum. One way to find someone’s address is to visit the museum and search names in the 1940 edition of Polk’s Vancouver City Directory, she said. The directory includes county residents in population centers of the county. Residents of rural areas, including Amboy and Yacolt, however, likely were omitted from the directory, Tissot said.

While the release provides a treasure trove of genealogical, historical and archaeological information, it also reflects how life has changed in the nation and in smaller communities.

For example, Clark County’s population is nearly nine times what it was in 1940. About 49,852 people lived in the county in 1940; there was an estimated 425,363 in 2011.

The 1940 census was the last former Mayor Kiggins participated in. He died the following year at his home on East Evergreen.

His house was relocated to 2404 H St. in 2008 to make way for the Riverwest mixed-used project, which included the Vancouver Community Library opened in 2011 and plans for condos, shops and offices.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.