I had found my diary writer on the 1870 U.S. Census: Augusta Mansfield, 11 years old, daughter of William and Theresa Mansfield, living in the 4th Ward, St. Anthony, Hennepin County, Minnesota. Historical documents like the U.S. Census hold a wealth of information that inform the researcher. For example, I learned that Augusta had an older brother named Robert who was born in New York. Her parents were both born in German states (German states were independent until unification in 1871). Her father William, a cabinet maker, was born in Schwerin, Mecklenburg. Augusta’s mother Theresa was born in the duchy Saxe-Weimar and was a homemaker. Augusta was born in Minnesota. This evidence starts to tell the story of William and Theresa, who emigrated from Germany sometime before 1856, (because their 14-year old son Robert was born in New York) and to Minnesota before Augusta was born in November 1858. These data will inform further research, such as examining passenger lists for William and Theresa to determine when they immigrated to the U.S. and looking in Mecklenburg and Saxe-Weimar records for other details to expand the genealogy.
Other valuable details emerge from the census data as well. Augusta attended school, for example, but Robert did not. Although Robert is listed as an “idiot,” he is not noted as being unable to read or write. The enumerators were instructed to inquire about the health of each individual in the household and record if they were “deaf and dumb, blind, insane, and idiotic” by writing it in the appropriate column on the census. The term “idiot” was used for “a person the development of whose mental faculties were arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity.” In other words, Robert was born with a mental disability such as down syndrome, or had a brain injury because of illness or physical injury as a child. Today we might use more enlightened term such as special needs.
These data are all valuable in developing the character “Gusta,” a 15-year old German-American girl, daughter of Minnesota Pioneers – making Augusta Mansfield’s diary come alive.