The first of June was Census Day for the 1890 U.S. Federal Census, and within six weeks the Hartford Courant reported that there were 3,010 persons living in Windsor on that date. However, the unfortunate loss of the hundreds of cartons of detailed enumeration forms from this census in a fire at the Department of Commerce has become a well-known, but frustrating, dilemma for historians and genealogists. Inspired and led by the efforts of volunteer Elaine Brophy, we have recreated this lost snapshot of Windsor near the turn of the century.
Why would we want to do this? In 1890 much of the town’s lands were still being used for agricultural purposes, but the construction of the Windsor Locks Canal and the arrival of the railroad had stimulated a variety of new commercial and industrial businesses. These included textile and paper mills alongside the Farmington River, numerous brick yards, a creamery, cigar making, and industrial manufacturing. By compiling a comprehensive list of the residents of Windsor in 1890, we hope to bring to light not only those who were prominent or descendants of the old familiar names, but also the women and children, farm laborers and mill workers, immigrants and others who may have more recently settled in town. It became our goal to identify all those who may have been living here and to ascertain the aspects of their demographic information which would have been on the census forms: age, race, birthplace, occupation, and related family members.
It was a fascinating, four-year-long project. By examining a variety of resources both here in the Society’s collections and in the wider community, we have identified 3,859 probable Windsorites to include on our Master Census List.
The project revealed the richness as well as some of the complexities, inconsistencies, and heartbreak inherent in working with archival records. For example, the clerk keeping the records at the Merwin Funeral Home had extraordinarily beautiful handwriting, but it took some time to learn to decipher the idiosyncrasies of her spelling and letter formation. The mother of John Parker’s three children is variously recorded as Estelle Vietz, Stella L. Viets, and Lydia E. Viets. We were sobered to find that one couple had lost four young children to diphtheria just a few months before census day.
The complete project consists of the Master Census List and four supporting tables comprised of the more detailed information extracted from tax and voting lists, vital records, church and funeral home records. By working back and forth between the various sets of information, Elaine was able to combine most of the individuals into family units. Each entry in the Master Census List indicates where that name was found in the documentary sources.
We have pulled a few preliminary statistical figures from the databases:
- There were 296 farmers in Windsor in 1890 and over 1,200 cows.
- There were 23 brick makers and masons, 21 cigar makers, 10 blacksmiths, and at least 162 people employed at the paper and textile mills.
- An additional 174 laborers could have worked in the mills or on the farms.
- Of the 460 residents who were foreign born, about half or 240 were born in Ireland, and at least fifteen other countries are represented in the remaining half.
- 2,399 people were born in Connecticut and another 215 were born in the other New England states.
- At least 40 people were born south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
- The most common surname was Clark (60 individuals in eighteen households), closely followed by Griswold (56), Phelps (55), Loomis (56), Mack (54), and Babcock (44).
We published They Lived in Windsor: A Reconstruction of the 1890 Census for Windsor, Connecticut in hard copy and on CD in 2014. We are aware that more resources could be consulted to augment and refine the lists further, but are confident that we have uncovered most of Windsor’s residents at that time.
The book costs $45.00 with an additional $10 for shipping and handling. Each copy includes a CD searchable with searchable spreadsheet tables. You can order one through our online gift shop, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Barbara Goodwin, Librarian, and Elaine Brophy, Volunteer
Top image: A Poquonock family of the 1890s. Photo attributed to C.R. Hatheway. Windsor Historical Society Collections 2008.41.61.