Herbert Lenzo Keith-A Depression Era Snapshot of a Family

    Here are the basic facts about my Hubby’s grandfather, Herbert Keith.  He was born 05 August 1901 in KY.  He married Vessie Zola Crick on 03 February 1921 in Christian County, KY.  He was the father of seven children.  He married Byrdie Mai Denny Vineyard.  He died on 10 August 1976 in Simpson County, KY and is buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery there.

      So when I began to research my Hubby’s family, of course, I expected to find Herbert on the 1910-1970 Federal Population censuses.  The United States Federal Population censuses are released every 72 years after the date of the census was taken due to privacy issues.  So when I started researching Herbert’s family in the early 1990s, the 1920 census had just been released.  Because I knew Herbert had married Vessie in 1921, and I knew his parents were Boyd and Mollie Keith, per my Mother-in-law, who should know who her grandparents were (we will prove that much later), I figured young Herbert was most likely living at home with his parents. A search of the 1920 census for Kentucky found B. W. and M. F. Keith living in Hopkins County, KY. Herbert, their son is 18 and living at home. He is single.


Source:  B. W.  Keith household, Hopkins County, KY Federal Population Census:  Supervisor’s District, Enumeration District 89, 1st Magisterial District, Page 8B, Dwelling 151, Family 157, Lines 54-58.  Microfilmed copy of original record can be found in 1920 Federal Population Census, Hopkins (ED 89-108) County, KY, (National Archives Microfilm T625, Roll No. 576), National Archives, Washington, D. C.

It is interesting to note here that Boyd is running a grocery store. Young Herbert is 18 years old and is working in the store as well.


I had to wait a few years to find out more information about Herbert via the census, since the 1930 census was not released until 2002, but in the meantime, I was able to do other research on his family. In 1992, Hubby and I took his mother, Dorothy Keith Elliott, to Kentucky to visit with a cousin of her’s, Mrs. Lurla Smith.  Lurla was a treasure trove of information on the Crick side of the family and she told us a lot of what it was like growing up during the Great Depression in Kentucky. She talked about being so poor and so hungry that her mother would go into the woods to collect pawpaws and berries for her family to eat. As a child, I walked to school and pawpaws grew wild on the road where we lived. I would pick them and eat them.  They are not my first choice for a food source. They are a bit bitter to eat and have large seeds.  This is what they look like:



     In 2002, when the 1930 census was released, I found Vessie and the two children living with her parents Van and Litlee Creek (Van and Lydia Crick) in Christian County, KY.  Herbert is not living with his family. If I were researching this family and didn’t know Herbert’s life story, I most likely would have assumed he died before 1930.  After all, his wife and two children are living with her parents and Herbert hasn’t been found on the 1930 census so far. (Hopefully one day I will find him enumerated some place else.)  It took me aback. Where was my husband’s grandfather, whom I knew lived until 1976?  Why was his wife and children living with her parents in 1930? (By 1930, Herbert and Vessie had two living children. One daughter lived to be one day old in 1922. She was premature.  A son, they named Eugene was born in 1929 in Detroit, Michigan and lived two days.) Then it hit me.  The stock market crashed in 1929.  The Great Depression is in full swing in 1930 when the census taker came to Kentucky. Herbert, like so many men of his age, had left home to find work, and his wife had moved back in with her parents. In today’s society, it’s easy to forget soup lines, and people starving in the streets, but in Kentucky in 1930, that was exactly what was happening.   Most likely he was moving around a lot, or living in a box car, or was in some other transient housing arrangement in 1930, and he simply was not enumerated. So I set my sights on 1940. My sweet Mother-in-law was born in 1936, so I could hardly wait ten years to find her family in 1940 when she’d be living with both parents! Sadly, I had forgotten the family narrative and it would throw my research off for many months. Never forget the family narrative as you are researching. Facts must match the family narrative. Though the family narrative is often wrong, especially if it involves royalty or Native American princesses, most of the time it is rooted in truth.  I forgot that, and it cost me valuable research time ten years later.

Here is the family in 1930:


1930Van Crick

Source:  Van Crick household, Christian County, KY Federal Population Census:  Supervisor’s District 24-29, Enumeration District 10, 8th Magisterial District, Page 8B, Dwelling 88, Family 88, Lines 68-73.  Microfilmed copy of original record can be found in 1930 Federal Population Census, Christian EDs 24-7 to 24-9, 24-12, 24-10 to 24-11, 24-13 to 24-31, Clark EDs 25-1 to 25-15, Cumberland EDs 29-1 to 29-10, (National Archives Microfilm T626, Roll No. 740), National Archives, Washington, D. C.

As I stated, my Mother-in-law was born in 1936.  She was born in Detroit, Michigan, and I knew from her stories that her father had built houses there during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  At some point she gave me this picture of her parents in front of the house where they lived in Detroit.


Pictured: Back Row: Vessie Zola Crick Keith, Herbert Lenzo Keith holding Donald Frederick Keith.  Front Row: Cleatus Marlin Keith and Wilma Marie Keith.

This picture was taken before 1936, since my Mother-in-law is not pictured. My guess is since Donald was born in 1932, this picture was taking around 1934.

     Finally in 2012, my dream became reality. Both my father and my Mother-in-law were born in 1936, so the 1940 census would be the very first census they would be enumerated on, and as a genealogist, I had counted down the moments.  Dad was hard to find, because his surname was mis-indexed. But my Mother-in-law, Dorothy, was far easier. So easy in fact, that I found her twice!

The first time I found her, she was living with Boyd and Mary F. Keith, her paternal grandparents, along with her brothers, Cleatus and Donald. 

1940 Boyd Keith

Source: Boyd Keith household, Christian County, KY Federal Population Census:  Supervisor’s District 1, Enumeration District 24-32, 8th Magisterial District, Sheet 1B, Dwelling 19, Lines 75-79.  Microfilmed copy of original record can be found in 1940 Federal Population Census, Christian County, KY, (National Archives Microfilm T627, Roll 1294), National Archives, Washington, D. C.


     Then I found her living with her maternal grandparents, Van and Lida Crick, with her sister Wilma in Christian County, KY.  The girls middle initials have been transposed.

1940 Van Crick

Source: Van Crick household, Christian County, KY Federal Population Census:  Supervisor’s District 1, Enumeration District 24-32, 8th Magisterial District, Sheet 11B, Dwelling 200, Lines 45-49.  Microfilmed copy of original record can be found in 1940 Federal Population Census, Christian County, KY, (National Archives Microfilm T627, Roll 1294), National Archives, Washington, D. C.

We have the census to prove Dorothy knew her grandparents and her memories of her time with them are just as vivid today at 80 as they were when she lived there in the 1940s.  However, notice neither parent is living with the children.  Where were Vessie and Herbert?  For a while, this threw me, because as I mentioned early, I had forgotten the family narrative. So I went back to my Mother-in-law again, asking more questions. And boy did I feel silly when I realized the answers had been right under my nose all along. 

     In January of 1940, Vessie Keith had given birth to a little girl in Detroit, Michigan.  The child was either stillborn or died during child birth.  Vessie died on January 2, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan from complications of child birth. Both mother and child are buried in the same grave in Coles Chapel Cemetery in Christian County, KY.  Vessie is not enumerated on the 1940 census, because she died in January and the census was taken in April 1940.  According to the family narrative, the girls, Dorothy and Wilma went to live with their maternal grandparents, Van and Lydia Hight Crick.  The boys, Cleatus and Don went to live with their paternal grandparents, Boyd and Mary F. “Molly” Keith after their mother’s death.  The 1940 census showing Dorothy at the Keith’s house must have been taken on a day when she was visiting with her brothers.


     So if Herbert did not die until 1976, where was he in 1940?  Why couldn’t I find him enumerated in Kentucky near his children, or Detroit, where he and his wife had lived? It could be, like my grandparents, he is mis-indexed in 1940, and I just haven’t done an exhaustive enough search of the records to find him.  But my guess is pretty simple.  The census taker was given the following instructions:

                         301.  The Census Day.  There should be a return on the Population schedule for each person alive at the beginning of the census day, i. e. 12:01 a. m. on April 1, 1940. Thus persons who died after 12:01 a. m. should be enumerated; and infants born after 12:01 a. m. on April 1, 1940, should not be enumerated.

Herbert was alive on April 1, 1940, so he should have been enumerated.

                      302. Usual Place of Residence. Enumerate every person at his “usual place of residence.”  This means, usually the place that he would name in reply to the question “Where do you live?”  or the place he regards as his home.  As a rule, it will be the place where the person usually sleeps.

     This rule is most likely the reason that Herbert Lenzo Keith was not enumerated on the 1940 census.  It is thought that he stayed in the Christian County, KY area for a bit after his wife’s death before returning to Detroit. Michigan.  While his children were going to be living with their grandparents for a while after their mother’s death and their father was going to return to work, there is nothing in the family narrative that suggests in 1940, Herbert considered Christian County, KY his usual place of residence.  If he were staying with family when the census taker came by, he would not have been enumerated there in 1940. While he most certainly considered Detroit, Michigan his home, and returned to live there and eventually remarried there, he probably was not at home in Detroit when the census taker came by in April 1940, so he was not enumerated there either. However, his brother Odie Keith was enumerated in Detroit in 1940 in the 21st Ward, Tract 774, Enumeration District 84-1388.  Herbert married Byrdie Mai Denny Vineyard, a divorce’ with two sons sometime after 1940. In 1940, she is enumerated in the 21st Ward, Tract 774, Enumeration District 84-1416.  We have to assume that Herbert and Vessie had most likely lived in the 21st Ward as well.


    In 1940, Odie Keith is enumerated as renting a house between 1674 and 1682 Lillibridge Avenue in Ward 21 in Detroit, Michigan.   He is a material handler at the automobile plant.  Here is an aerial of 1672 Lillibridge Street in Detroit, Michigan.  The large building at the top of the image is the automobile plant he worked at. Obviously, the Keith brothers went to Michigan to find work to provide for their families and were successful in building a community.


1674 Lillibridge Avenue Odie Keith 1940

image: Google earth.


Herbert and Byrdie Keith taken some time before his death in 1976.


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