In the Census: What Stories we Learn About our Ancestors

This assignment of 52 ancestors in 52 weeks allows me an opportunity to write about finding out more information than what shows up on the census. Here is what happened. In the 1940 census, my mother-in-law, Orpha Broberg, showed up on line 40 making her the person who had additional information that her mother provided. Here’s a look at portions of the census:

1940 header for Shell Creek Precinct Boone County Nebraska

William A. Nelson enumerated the people on this page 18-19 April 1940, so Orpha shows up as a 20-year old bookkeeper for a local oil company who lives at home with her parents and younger sister, Arlene. Her mother provided the information, so I suspect that she was the only one home. Lawrence Broberg, Orpha’s father, was a farmer who was probably in the fields or the barn. Arlene was a high school student, so she would have been gone most of the day.

1940 census Orpha part 1 1940 census Orpha part 2In 2012, when the 1940 census was released, I called Orpha to ask her some questions to amplify the information provided. Since we frequently talked about her background, I thought I knew her work and family history, but didn’t know she worked as a bookkeeper for an oil company. Out flew the questions and the answers were clear and forthcoming. I don’t have a transcription of our conversation, but what I heard were her personal recollections that hadn’t seen the light of day for many years. We laughed together as she shared lighter moments and what a typical day was for her and the 1940 census Orpha part 3family. The days were long and often routine, but Orpha felt good about contributing to the family after a difficult time through the depression years.

In later years, Orpha worked as a bookkeeper and enjoyed the order that came from the work. She also kept the family books until a couple of years ago when macular degeneration prevented her from seeing the details. Now I know where it all started.


1940 United States Federal Census, Shell Creek, Boone, NE; roll: m-t0627-02236; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 6-19 found on