One of the greatest, worst movies of all time is National Treasure. The plot is insane, the historical accuracy is mezza mezza, and it stars Nicolas Cage, so it’s not winning any Oscars. That said, it is one of my guilty pleasures – just the thought that some of the “treasure” at the end of the movie contained scrolls from the Library at Alexandria is the stuff of dreams.
The other day, when Chris Child couldn’t find Harry Truman on the 1950 Census, I immediately thought of National Treasure (since the movie came out in 2004, I am not worried about spoilers). Near the end of the movie, when the treasure hunters are worried about being trapped in an underground chamber, Cage’s character says, “…the first thing the builders would have done after getting down here was cut a secondary shaft back out for air.” This is the line that sent me on a wild goose chase – I thought to myself, “If we can’t find Truman where he was residing at the time, what did the enumerator do with his entry?”
We know from Chris’s post that the President was NOT enumerated in Washington, D.C. He wasn’t enumerated at the White House (which was under renovation) or Blair House (the temporary residence for the Trumans in D.C. during the renovation). We know from a note at the top of the enumeration at Blair House that the intention was for the Trumans to be enumerated in Key West, Florida. We even have a photo of Eileen Nolte, one of the enumerators in Key West, and the Trumans laughing while they respond to the questions. But none of that makes any sense. That’s not what the instructions tell enumerators to do…
One of the best features of the U.S. Census Bureau’s website is the actual instructions provided to enumerators…
One of the best features of the U.S. Census Bureau’s website is the actual instructions provided to enumerators for most of the decennial censuses. In paragraph 76 of the 1950 instructions specific to non-residents, we find that Eileen Nolte was instructed to fill out an Individual Census Report (ICR) for the Trumans, “to make absolutely sure that the Census does not miss them in the ED where they usually live.” Although Truman spent 175 days of his presidency in Key West, from 1946 through 1952, the Little White House was not his usual residence. His usual residence was Washington, D.C. (at Blair House).
I contacted my friends at the National Archives and Records Administration, asking about the ICRs. Unfortunately, those records did not survive and were not included in the 1952 microfilming. However, one of their genealogical experts weighed in on the ICR theory. If the Truman family was enumerated on an ICR, it should have found its way to the correct ED. According to NARA experts, “Margaret Truman is listed in ED 1-251 on Sheet 71, Line 6, with ‘White House’ as address. Also, an H. H. Graham, Line 12, but both are crossed out, like they are already enumerated on a different page – or different address – yet it’s not clear where that page is. Both are here because they apparently filled out the Form P2, Individual Census Report, which was then transcribed to this, the proper ED for the White House.” If you are interested in ICRs, please see this NARA blog post.
So, if they weren’t where we expected in Key West or Washington, D.C., where were they? I thought about Nick Cage in National Treasure: “If the enumerator did not include them in the correct Enumeration District, what might she have done? Where could they possibly be?”
My idea, encouraged by Chris Child, was that the Trumans were enumerated in ONE of Eileen Nolte’s assigned Enumeration Districts. We know she asked them the questions from the 1950 Census – we have video evidence of this event. We know, from newspaper articles at the time, that Margaret Truman was one of the persons selected to answer supplemental questions (either line 2, 7, 12, 17, 22 or 27), so they should appear on a population schedule. We know that the folks in D.C. were under the assumption that the Trumans were meant to be enumerated in Key West. We know that they were not enumerated in the Enumeration District in Key West where the Little White House was located. Therefore, I guessed that Eileen Nolte enumerated the Trumans in one of her other assigned districts.
I went through each Enumeration District in Key West, looking for Eileen. Of the 40 Enumeration Districts, Eileen Nolte appeared to be the enumerator of at least ten of them: 44-25, 44-36b, 44-36d, 44-16, 44-24, 44-28, 44-25, 44-38, 44-40, and 44-29. Maybe she enumerated the Trumans on a random page of her portfolios?
Guess what? I didn’t find them. But I’m not giving up.
I searched all ten EDs and came up with nothing – I doubled down and looked at every ED in Key West. All 54 of them. Guess what? I didn’t find them. But I’m not giving up. I refuse to believe that Margaret Truman was crossed off her entry in ED 1-251 (Sheet 71, Line 6) without just cause. She was likely enumerated somewhere else for that to be the case.
Following my Nick Cage line of questioning, my next guess was to consider that the Trumans were enumerated by Eileen Nolte, but that the page where they were enumerated was sent separately to D.C. I don’t think they filled out an ICR, since the newspaper article makes specific reference to the supplemental questions, questions that were not included on the ICR sheets. If this is the case, then we need to examine each of the 1,318 Enumeration Districts in Washington, D.C.
Who’s with me!?
 “Margaret Truman Talks for Census,” Daily News (New York, New York), Sunday, 2 April 1950, column 1, p. 56.