Monday, October 10, 2011

Censuses Behaving Badly: The Case of the Two Therman Lockharts

Ennis, McDowell County, West Virginia has never been much of a metropolis.  

In a “Coal Country” county with few roads and lots of sparsely populated “hollers”, surrounded by places with names like Antler, Switchback, Jed, Six, Johnnycake and Panther, it doesn’t appear as a “destination” in tourist guidebooks. 

Remember, in the 2010 census, the population of the entire county was just a hair north of 22,000 people – about the same as in a square of apartment blocks in some parts of Manhattan.

In fact, if it weren’t for geology and if easy access to the Number 3 Pocahontas Seam had been located somewhere else, there’s a very good chance that Ennis, West Virginia wouldn’t exist at all.  However, because of that seam, about 300 men who worked for the Turkey Gap Coal and Coke Company dug out nearly 1200 tons of coal from deep inside the earth around Ennis every year.   Mules and steam locomotives hauled the coal out to be loaded into railroad cars.  From Ennis, it was hauled on the railroad track that hugged the twists and turns of the Elkhorn Creek that cut through those McDowell County hills.

Coal mining has always been dirty, dangerous work. Men went in in the morning clean and came out in the evening covered in black dust – on the outside and on the inside. In 1910, the “Annual Report of the West Virginia Department of Mines” noted that the Turkey Gap mine in Ennis needed careful attention  “…for it has been known to liberate a large quality of explosive gas…”

The McQuail family’s Turkey Gap mine at Ennis was not the only coal operation that cut into the rich Number 3 Pocahontas seam.  In between Ennis and nearby Elkhorn, men worked at the Upland mine, the Houston One and Houston Two mines and the Crozier One and Two mines.  Each mine employed hundreds of men, some of them off-the-boat eastern European immigrants who spoke little or no English and who lived together in rooming houses.  The 1910 census noted that their first languages were Russian, Slovenian, Slovak, Hungarian and Russian, the sound of which had not been heard much in this part of West Virginia until coal brought boom times.  And because the census taker couldn’t ask the questions in a language they could understand, the age and marital status of many of these miners is simply listed as “unknown.”

Coal mining towns needed all sorts of workers to keep things running smoothly.  There were carpenters, blacksmiths, storekeepers, cooks, rooming-house keepers, barbers, and doctors.  There were foremen, managers and superintendents. There were preachers and teachers. There were single men and large families with children.  Folks who were born a few miles away and folks who had traveled there, sometimes from the other side of the earth, all there because of that Number 3 Pocahontas Seam.

One of those many travelers from afar was a single 23 year old man whose census entry indicates that he was a “teacher – public school.” His full name was Therman Allen Lockhart, but most people simply called him “T.A.”  He lived in Edith Piles’ rooming house in Elkhorn District - probably just a walk from his school - along with eight other boarders, plus Edith’s extended family and some hired help.  His father and mother were living on a farm in Grant District, Jackson County, West Virginia, more than 175 miles to the north, and too far for the occasional casual visit home during the school year.

T.A. was a country-schoolhouse teacher.  He taught everybody everything that needed teaching, from history to math to science to spelling. He had coal miners’ sons and storekeepers’ daughters in his class.

This is what his teaching certificate looked like (and you can see that he was very, very good at history):

You can also see him in the photo above, which came from T.A.’s own collection.  He’s the last person on the right, in the dark suit and tie, looking somewhat uncomfortable and very serious and teacher-ish.  Almost all of the other people in the photo are his pupils at the Ennis School during the 1909 – 1910 school year. 

Here's a close-up. The stern-looking woman to his left may well be the 30 year old teacher Essie Shelton, also a resident of Mrs. Piles’ boarding-house, whose name is next to his in the census – however, it’s hard to tell the young-ish teachers from their “almost as old” students.

T.A. didn’t stay long in Ennis.  He taught in several other locations, found a wife, moved back to his home area in Jackson County and stayed there for the rest of his life, raising a family, and keeping livestock, chickens, and hives of honeybees.  In between those activities, he delivered the local mail for the post office, wrote frequent local history columns for several local newspapers and in the 1930s, worked on his family genealogy, interviewing his older relatives, keeping copious notes and writing family sketches. 

T.A. Lockhart wrote many of the family stories that our own grandkids will read someday. You see, T.A. was one of their eight great-great grandfathers – each of whom has a unique North American story.

The point of telling you a small part of T.A.’s story today was to draw your attention to something you may not have thought much about lately.

Simply put, for genealogists, census work can hold lots of surprises, especially in this “new age” of digitized and indexed images.  Here’s an example:

Years ago, genealogists cranked away at microfilm readers, searching for a family or name.  When the sought-after name was found, the information was recorded or printed and that was that. After all, once you found what you were searching for, why keep on looking?

Enter the wonderful world of online census indexes.  Now, the search time for a record is often reduced from hours to fractions of seconds, especially when everything goes right.  But every now and again, an anomaly shows up.

Like “The Case of Two Therman Lockharts” in the 1910 Census of West Virginia. 

One Therman Lockhart is listed in Elkhorn, McDowell County.  He is the teacher-boarder living in Mrs. Piles’ boarding-house who is pictured above. 

His boarding-house entry, seventh from the bottom, dated 4 May 1910, can be found on sheet 6-A of ED 85 (Elkhorn District, McDowell County, WV):

The other Therman Lockhart is the teacher-son living on the family farm in Grant District, Jackson County, with his parents, Jonathan and Virginia (Full) Lockhart. 

Here is that entry, dated 22 April 1910, found on sheet 5-B of ED 44 (Grant, Jackson County, WV):

They are, in fact, the very same person, even though both census takers in Jackson and McDowell Counties spelled his first name wrong.  (That spelling issue may be why he called himself “T.A.”)

Without this census anomaly, a researcher would not likely think to look for Therman Lockhart in more than one place in 1910 – the Jackson County entry being the most “logical.”  In fact, if you were researching the family in general and T.A. in particular and had never seen the “Ennis” photo above or did not know about T.A.’s very short teaching career in southern West Virginia, you’d have no reason at all to look for him in McDowell County. 

After all, why would a researcher expect that someone – all of whose census entries from 1900 to 1930 reflected continuous residence in Jackson County, West Virginia  - might be found “elsewhere”?
No question, finding him in McDowell County provides the researcher with important data not easily found anywhere else.

That’s one of the marvels of technology – being able to find those little things that probably should not even be there in the first place – like Therman Lockhart’s double entry in the 1910 census.

Oh, and by the way, check out two of the guys sitting directly to the left of the teachers.  Here’s an enlargement (see photo left) of that part of the photo.   

Look in their hands.  A gun? A playing card? 

Teaching has always been a tough job.  Kids act up and kids act out, whether it's 1910 or 2010. 

Been there, done that.


  1. What do you suppose is the frequency of a person being counted twice in any given census? Are there any stats on this? I've run across this several times in my own 16 years of looking at census records, and it seems to be far more common than a person NOT being counted. Sure makes you wish more of those ancestors you have so much trouble finding info on would turn up elsewhere when you've already found them once where they're "supposed" to be.

  2. I've never seen any actual stats on this - only anecdotal evidence. I know of at least five cases in the families I research, mostly in 1880 or later censuses. Also, the woman who ran the boarding-house in the story above (Mrs. Piles) can be found along with her two daughters in the household of her husband George in yet another McDowell County location. They were counted twice in the same county - thus making McDowell County somewhat larger (census-wise) than it deserved to be.