Some people are difficult - sometimes impossible - to locate in population census records. The reasons vary widely. This post will take a brief look at the unusual situation of blatantly fictional names.
During the 1910 census, Joseph P. Farrelly was assigned to be enumerator of Enumeration District (ED) 27, Ward 3, Precinct 1, of New Orleans City, which was an area bounded on the north by Canal Street, on the east by the Mississippi River, on the south by Julia Street, and on the west by Baronne Street. Some residents of this ethnically and racially diverse area worked in occupations that supported the bustling seaport, where riverboat and railroad traffic delivered agricultural and industrial products for export to the world on ocean-going vessels, and in return, those oceanic vessels delivered imported food and goods. The photo below, annotated to show the approximate boundaries of ED 27, is a detail from an aerial photograph taken on April 6, 1937. Canal Street is on the right; Lafayette Square is in the upper middle of the ED.
Thousands of men and women lived as lodgers in crowded multistory racially segregated boarding houses. As long as rent was paid, some boardinghouse keepers probably didn’t want to know too much about the personal circumstances of their lodgers (also called boarders).
For the proprietors of boarding houses and their wives and family members, the information is usually complete: name, age, birthplaces, occupations, and so forth. In contrast, much information is often lacking for the lodgers. Their names are given, but other information is indicated as “unknown" unless (apparently) the lodger himself was at home and available to provide it. Even some of the lodgers' names are incomplete: first name only, surname only, and even obvious fictional (invented) names.
On Tuesday, April 26, 1910, the 11th day of the census enumeration, Joseph P. Farrelly visited a number of large lodging houses in his enumeration district.
At 600 Fulton Street, a Black couple named Elijah Cheevies, 35, and Rosie Cheevies, age 26, operated a lodging house in a rented building. They had 17 lodgers, whose age, marital status, places of birth, parents’ place of birth, and ability to read and write were given as “un” (unknown). Each was said to be employed as a “roustabout” on the “River,” but whether they were employed on April 15, 1910 or working for themselves or an employer were said to be “un” (unknown). A roustabout was an unskilled or casual laborer, such as a a dock laborer, vessel deckhand, or oil rig laborer. Most of the lodgers at the Cheevies house had plausible names that were probably reasonably correct, but a few had names that were clearly invented pseudonyms. Here is the full list of lodgers: Jeff Anderson, Archie Robertson, Davie Hughes, Jim McMiller, William Turner, Tom Morgan, George Clark, George Washington, George Brown, Dallar Doff [Doff Dollar?], Another Time, Black Diamond, Sid Smoky, Clara Robertson, Will Murray, and Peter Buttons. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Roll 571, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ward 3, Precinct 1, ED 27, Sheet 14A, Lines 5-23). Here is a detail showing that household:
Additional persons sporting fictional names were reported across the street at 601 Fulton Street, another Black lodging house. The proprietor of this establishment might have been Annie Bell, age 52, a white widow, who lived around the corner at 319 Girod Street, whose occupation was described as the keeper of a rooming house. Since her daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Joseph Brown, were the only other residents of 319 Girod, the rooming house had to be a separate nearby building, and 601 Fulton was likely it. Some of the lodgers have plausible names and personal information, while others clearly have invented names: Pretty Shirt Willie, Brass Check Ben, Knox Point, Jim Topsy, Big Smoky, Pittsburg, Bud Hoot, Dollar Bill, Buck Tooth, Ham Sandwich, Fool Kelly, Bare Foot, Black Mace, and Hard Leather. The enumerator was supposed to record names in “last, first” format, but may not have always followed that rule, so it is sometimes difficult to be sure which part of invented names were intended as the “first” or “last” name. (National Archives Microfilm Publication T624, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Roll 571, New Orleans, Louisiana, Ward 3, Precinct 1, ED 27, Sheet 13A, Lines 1-50). Here is a detail showing some people in that boarding house:
Fortunately, blatantly fictional names intended to identify real people are fairly rare in census records. Mr. Farrelly was probably as diligent as any enumerator. The job was temporary, but not necessarily easy. The census enumerator was an agent of the federal government, but successfully completing the job required persuading people to cooperate. The enumerator also had to judge when imperfect and incomplete information would have to suffice. So, sure, you can record my information on the census, just call me Another Time and bring Ham Sandwich with you!