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Check Out That Household Boarder

Often overlooked while researching the U. S. Census or State Census records is the fact that other people, not related can lived in a family home. It was very common practice for a family to take in boarders, an individual who rented a room in the house on a weekly or monthly basis. Besides the lodging many times a meal or two were also part of the rent. It was a excellent method to help bring in additional income for the household. Some houses were already too full when there were many children plus grandparents living with the family. However, once some of the sons or daughters moved out there could be a spare room to rent out. These boarders many times became very friendly with the host family. Here is where you need to take a closer look.

As you examine a census, note all the people in the household. Most of the time, the census taker did note that a person was a boarder, but it has been found that the boarder was also a relative of someone in the home. They might be a brother-in-law, a uncle or cousin and that was not noted on the census.

What becomes fascinating are future relationships. For example, a young single man, age 25 was renting a room in a family’s house. He was not a relative, but from being around with the family had the opportunity to meet a niece of the head of household when she visited the family. They eventually married and now that young man becomes a member of that family. This situation happened countless times.

A real life example was the John O. Turner family of Wilson, Arkansas in 1900. John and his wife, Lucy had their five children, plus an aunt and a brother-in-law in the household. The aunt and brother-in-law had different surnames. Add to the house were two boarders. There was Dr. Elton L. Wilson and William Johnson who was a day laborer, both single. John and Lucy Turner were close in age to the two boarders and could have other female relatives they could have introduced to either of the boarders. So sometimes it can be of benefit to follow after a certain census date to the next ten years later and see where a certain boarder was living and if they were married and to whom.

It is amazing how many times such events happened. My own great grandfather met his future wife, my great grandmother because he worked for her father (Capt. Groff) at his business and stayed at the family’s large house as a boarder because he was from another part of the state.

Never overlook anyone in a household on the census, they just might be an ancestor.

Above: The Groff home in 1900.

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