In music, a “one hit wonder” is when a singer or musical group has one chart-topping song. They have one big hit and that’s it. However, some of those single hits for one group have gone on to be hits for others. Still more of them have gone on to be featured in countless collections of hits from their era, or have been immortalized in movie soundtracks.
I personally didn’t know who Bobby Day was, but say the name of his one hit wonder “Rockin’ Robin” and I not only think of the Jackson 5, I also think of one particular hand clapping game we used to play to this tune; the first verse was pretty much the same as the original, but the second was a bit different. I don’t recall the original lyrics being “Your Daddy’s in the back yard, shootin’ them dice/your Mama’s in the kitchen, cookin’ that rice.” And, I didn’t know that before a group called the Crew Cuts did the song “Sh-boom” (aka “Life Could Be a Dream”) that it was a one hit wonder for a group called The Chords. If you’ve seen Pixar’s movie Cars, then you heard this song playing as the cars were cruising the neon lit streets.
There are plenty of other examples in music of course. However, the “one hit wonders” that I am referring to in this case are those in our genealogy. They are children in our families that show up on a single census. Their presence is a one time occurrence for a single decade’s list, and they are never seen again.
When going through the 1940 US Census, I was looking for a potential one hit wonder in my own family. When I started looking into my mother’s side of the family tree, I had mentioned the tragic circumstances of her older sister’s death. Because of when she was born, I knew that 1940 would be the only census on which she would appear. The question remained though: would she be on it at all?
The family lore varied a lot on when she had actually died. Some made it sound like she was just a baby or toddler. My gut feeling though was that she would have been older. I made that conclusion based on the story. If she was trying to go after a bottle of nail polish on a fireplace mantle, I felt she would need to be at least three or four to attempt to climb or reach up to the mantle.
I knew where the family should be at this point, because I was able to find birth records for both the sister and my mother in the same location. Letcher County, Kentucky is where I started my search.
The hard part was that I didn’t know exactly in what section of Letcher County to start. I used the 1940 Census Enumeration District Finder created by Stephen P. Morse, PhD & Joel D. Weintraub, PhD to show me all the districts for the county. I then looked at the descriptions. From the 1930 Census, I knew that my grandfather’s family had lived in Magisterial District 1, which had four possible enumerations districts that made it up. I decided I’d have to search page by page.
In enumeration district (ED) 67-1, I saw the name ‘Whitaker’ a few times, but almost all the names were unfamiliar. One name I tucked away for a future date to research because I thought it might be a son of Vetter Whittaker, whose name helped me link up several spelling variations on multiple censuses. So, not finding any of my family in that district, I went on to ED 67-2.
I was eleven pages in and I almost missed it. It wasn’t my mother’s sister, but it led me to believe I was on the right track. It also thoroughly convinced me that somehow, the census takers had decided to make things difficult for me because once again, they were mixing things up on me again.
The reason I almost didn’t catch this was because both of my great-grandparents’ names are incorrect. Manford is listed as Langford, and Thenie is listed as Dina!
So, you might ask, how do I know this is really my family? It’s because of the twins. However, once again, we have a gender-bending census taker, because Rolie and Trolie Lawson were actually identical twin boys! Rolie and Trolie (or as I knew them, Uncle Roll and Uncle Troll) were not just names to me. I knew them both growing up, and they were both down to earth with great senses of humor.
In finding my great-grandparents and two of my grand-uncles, I figured I was starting to get nearer to finding the family. In fact, on the next page, I found another possible relative. The name was listed as Esta, but I think it might be Delbert Estes, another grand-uncle.
After that, page after page went by without seeing another familiar name. Then, turning to my 26th page to review, I found what I was looking for (and more):
The first family listed is my great-grandmother with her second husband, and two of my grandfather’s half-siblings (I think that the last name is Juanita, which means we once again have a census taker that is a sex change artist). You can see that the census taker probably missed filling in one field, and he was entering things in the wrong spots. He had to go in and make corrections, and unfortunately, his correction for Juanita made her a boy.
The final line contains the name of my one hit wonder: Anna (Mae) Newell. As you can see, she is the only child at the moment. Not for long though. You see, my grandmother was a few months pregnant by this time, and before the year was out, she would be giving birth to my Mom.
My grandfather used to tell us about how when Grandma was pregnant with Mom, she would chew ice all the time. He would say, “All day long she would just be crunchin’ on that ice. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch! Sounded like a hog chewin’ on corn!” I guess she got over it eventually; I was told when she had one of my aunts, it was peaches that she craved.
I was glad to see Anna Mae on the census. I had already found her birth record. Seeing another record for her made her seem more real to me. She had lived. She would have been about 18 months old at the time of the census, so she would have been walking and talking. But, I knew at the same time, this young girl would in a few years die tragically. It was a bittersweet discovery, but one that I feel helped me make a deeper connection to the aunt I never knew.
I wonder if any of you have any one hit wonders in your family?