52 Documents in 52 Weeks #13 – Caroline (Bonser) Respher’s 1920 Census

Caroline (Bonser) Repsher and husband John J. Repsher

Person of Interest: Caroline (Bonser) Respher
Relationship: 2nd Great grandmother

Source Citation: 1920 U. S. census, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Stroudsburg, ED 48, p. 3B (penned), dwelling 52, family 56, Caroline Repsher; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 April 2017); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1603.

Document Description: These documents are part of the Fourteenth Census of the United States which was taken in 1920, shortly after the end of World War I. It is the fourteenth census taken since 1790. The U.S. census counts every resident in the United States. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau is responsible for taking the censuses. After 72 years (and not before owing to privacy reasons), the records are released to the public by the National Archives and Records Administration. In accordance with the 72-Year Rule, the National Archives released the 1920 records to the public in 1992.  The U.S. Census Bureau provides the interested researcher a great overview of each census. In the 1920 overview, we find that the census date was changed to 01 January (it was April 15th in 1910) based on a request from the Department of Agriculture. They argued that more people would be home in January compared to April and that farmers would have a better recollection in January of the crops harvested in the prior fall.

According to the 1920 overview site, the details of the enumeration were this:

“For the 1920 census, “usual place of abode” became the basis for enumeration. Individuals were enumerated as residents of the place in which they regularly slept, not where they worked or might be visiting. People with no regular residence, including “floaters” and members of transient railroad or construction camps, were enumerated as residents of the place where they were when the count was taken. Enumerators were also instructed to ask if any family members were temporarily absent; if so, these people were to be listed either with the household or on the last schedule for the census subdivision.

“The format and information in the 1920 census schedules closely resembled that of the 1910 census. The 1920 census, however, did not ask about unemployment on the day of the census, nor did it ask about service in the Union or Confederate army or navy. Questions about the number of children born and how long a couple had been married were also omitted. The bureau modified the enumeration of inmates of institutions and dependent, defective, and delinquent classes. The 1920 census included four new questions: one asking the year of naturalization and three about mother tongue. There was no separate schedule for Indians in 1920.

“Because of the changes in some international boundaries following World War I, enumerators were instructed to report the province (state or region) or city of persons declaring they or their parents had been born in Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, or Turkey. If a person had been born in any other foreign country, only the name of the country was to be entered.

“The instructions to enumerators did not require that individuals spell out their names. Enumerators wrote down the information given to them; they were not authorized to request proof of age, date of arrival, or other information. The determination of race was based on the enumerator’s impressions.”

Both Ancestry.com (fee site) and FamilySearch.org (free) offers digitized copies of the census and are searchable by name.

Documents Scan/Transcription: Numbers relate to columns on the population schedule.
Page 3B Header
State: Pennsylvania; County: Monroe; Name of Incorporated Place: East Stroudsburg Borough; Ward of City: District #1; S.D. No.: 7; E.D. No.: 48; Enumerated by me on the 5th day of January 1920; Enumerator: Carolyn B. Smith; Sheet No.: 3B; stamped page number does not exist.

Page 3B Detail
lines 52-58, Caroline, Robert and William Repsher, Lilian, Jennie and Elizabeth Cobb, and Harry Sharbaugh Jr. [respectively with ; between]

Place of Abode
1. Street, Avenue, Road, etc: North Courtland St.
2. House number: 286
3. Number of dwelling: 52
4. Number of family in order of visitation: 56

Household Data
5. Name: Repsher Caroline; —- Robert; —- William F.; Cobb Lillian; Cobb Jennie; Cobb Elizabeth; Sharbaugh Harry Jr.
6. Relation: Head; Son; Son; Daughter; Daughter, Granddaughter, Grandson
7. Tenure, home owned or rented: R; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
8. Tenure, if owned, free, or mortgaged: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]

Personal Description
9. Sex: F; M; M; F; F; F; M
10. Color of race: W; W; W; W; W; W; W
11. Age at last birthday: 61; 22; 20; 20; 19; 1 10/12; 10/12
12. Single, married, widowed, or divorced: W; S; S; W; W; S; S

13. Year of immigration: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
14. Naturalized or alien: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
15. If naturalized, year of naturalization: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]

16. Attend school since Sep. 1, 1919: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
17. Whether able to read: Yes; Yes; Yes; Yes; Yes; [blank]; [blank]
18. Whether able to write: Yes; Yes; Yes; Yes; Yes; [blank]; [blank]

Nativity and Mother Tongue
19. Person, place of birth: Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania,Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
20. Person, mother tongue: German; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
21. Father, place of birth: Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania,Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
22. Father, mother tongue: German; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]
23. Mother, place of birth: Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania,Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
24. Mother, mother tongue: GermanGerman; German; German; German; [blank]; [blank]
25. Whether able to speak English: Yes; Yes; Yes; Yes; Yes; [blank]; [blank]

26. Trade, profession, or particular kind of work done: none; Weaver; Weaver; none; Warper; none; none
27. Industry, business, or establishment in which at work: [blank]; Silk Mill; Silk Mill; [blank]; Silk Mill, [blank];[blank]
28. Employer, salary or wage worker, or working on own account:  [blank]; W; W; [blank]; W, [blank];[blank]
29. Number of farm schedule: [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]; [blank]

Analysis: The above listings/transcriptions are a bit hard to read, I admit it. So why go through the pain of typing it all out? It forced me to look at every single box and tick mark and code and notation. So, let’s put the above in a more user-friendly, narrative format:

On 01 January 1920, Caroline Repsher (61), head of household, was living in the borough of East Stroudsburg, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, with sons Robert Repsher (22) and William F. Repsher (20), daughters Lillian Cobb (20) and Jennie Cobb (19), granddaughter Elizabeth Cobb (1 10/12) and grandson Harry Sharbaugh Jr. (10/12). Caroline was renting the house at 286 North Courtland St. when enumerator Carolyn B. Smith visited the household on 05 January 1920 to record the family’s information. Ms. Smith was working in her Supervisor’s District of 7 which oversaw Enumeration District 48. In order of visitation, the family was labeled as living in dwelling #52 and as family #56.

There were three widowed women living in the household, Caroline, Lillian, and Jennie. Both Robert and William were listed as being single as were the two young grandchildren. No one in the household had attended school since 01 September 1919 and all but the grandchildren were able to read, write and speak English. All were listed as being born in Pennsylvania including the individuals parents. No one had any citizenship other than American. Caroline was listed as having a native tongue of German but Ms. Smith crossed out this information.  Robert, William, and Jennie were all employed by the silk mill working for wages. Robert and William were weavers and Jennie was a warper.

The basic questions asked in this 1920 census give us a brief glimpse of Caroline and some of her children. There seems to be some tragedy surrounding the family in that Caroline and two of her daughters, Lillian and Jennie, are widowed at the time of the census. Perhaps the great influenza epidemic and/or World War I, which both happened around the time of the census, had something to do with this.

The enumeration of this particular family unit brings up some interesting questions and highlight the dangers of making assumptions:

  • Why did Lillian and Jennie both have the same last name of Cobb?
    • Could the enumerator have made a mistake?
    • Could the two girls have both married men with the same last name?
    • Perhaps the sisters married brothers or cousins named Cobb?
  • And which daughter, Lillian or Jennie, did the granddaughter Elizabeth Cobb belong to, if either?
  • And why was grandson, Harry Sharbaugh Jr. living with Caroline?
    • Where was Harry Sharbaugh Sr. and how was he related to the family?
    • Was he the son of another of Caroline’s daughters and, if so, where is she?
  • Were William and Lillian truly the same age at 20 years old?
    • Was this an enumerator mistake?
    • Or perhaps they were twins?

The census itself does not answer any of these questions. That makes this census evidence (relevance of information) relating to the above questions indirect in nature and this census evidence must be combined with other sources of information. For example, a hand-written family group sheet prepared by my great grandmother, Anna K. Repsher, corroborates that Lillian was married to a man named Frank Cobb and that he died on 06 October 1918.[1] A daughter named Elizabeth was listed as a child of this union and again corroborates that she was a granddaughter of Caroline as found in the census. Another family group sheet has some remarks about Jennie and her first marriage to a man named Frederick Cobb who died 03 October 1918 in the flu epidemic.[2] But even with this information, one should not assume that Frank and Frederick were brothers.

Some of the languages defined for the 1920 census

Instructions to the enumerators are a good way to make sure you understand what each item on the census means. The instructions for the 1920 are found on a handy website called IPUMS which stands for the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. Perusing the instructions for the 1920 census at IPUMS shows that:

  • The list of principal foreign languages for column 20 (mother tongue) consisted of a list of 63 languages ranging from Albanian to Magyar to Yiddish.
  • Regarding occupations the enumerator were told that “Care should be taken in making the return for persons who on account of old age, permanent invalidism, or otherwise are no longer following an occupation. Such persons may desire to return the occupations formerly followed, which would be incorrect.”
  • For person with more than one occupation, the enumerators were told that “If a person has two occupations, return only the more important one-that is, the one from which he gets the more money. If you can not learn that, return the one at which he spends the more time. For example: Return a man as farmer if he gets more of his income from farming, although he may also follow the occupation of a clergyman or preacher; but return him as a clergyman if he gets more of his income from that occupation.”
  • Working at housework was given no credit if there were no wages involved. Instructions were “In the case of a woman doing housework in her own home and having no other employment, the entry in column 26 should be none. But a woman working at housework for wages should be returned in column 26 as housekeeper, servant, or cook, or chambermaid, as the case may be; and the entry in column 27 should state the kind of place where she works, as private family, hotel, or boarding house.
  • A birth place (within the United States) of the individual had some specific instructions in that “If the person was born in the United States, give the State or Territory in which born. The words “United States” are not sufficiently definite. A person born in what is now West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Oklahoma should be so reported, although at the time of his birth the particular region may have had a different name. Do not abbreviate the names of States and Territories.” This tells you that the name at the time of the census was used, not the name of the place at the time of the person’s birth. A subtle but important piece of information.

This census also has some notations on the far right for the family members that are employed. Robert, William and Jennie all have “528” handwritten in the far right hand column. IPUMS also is handy for looking up industry codes. This one is fairly straightforward in that 528 stands for silk mills within the semi-skilled operatives in the textile industries. Since the codes were added after the census was taken, they’re not really not much aide except to help decipher some enumerator’s poor handwriting. If you can’t make out the scribbling in the industry column, the additional codes may help with that.


The fact that Caroline, Jennie, and Lillian were all widowed by 01 January 1920 suggests some obvious further research into their husbands’ deaths and makes me want to ferret out information on their marriages. Harry Sharbaugh living in the household suggests that yet another of Caroline’s daughters was married but has passed away by the time the census was taken. It is somewhat sad to think of all the people who didn’t make it to be enumerated in this particular census within Caroline’s family.

[1] Anna (Karthaeuser) Repsher, compiler, “Family Record of J. J. Repsher Jr. and Caroline Repsher nee Bonser”; (Handwritten family group sheets, Netcong, New Jersey, 1911-1970), p. 114. Privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, AZ.
[2] Anna (Karthaeuser) Repsher, compiler, “Family Record of J. J. Repsher Jr. and Caroline Repsher nee Bonser”; (Handwritten family group sheets, Netcong, New Jersey, 1911-1970), p. 126. Privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, AZ.


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