Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Need historical context? Try MooseRoots

I've been thinking about Seattle, the city in Washington state where my father was enumerated in the 1940 US federal census as a college student in the household of his parents Shirley and Myrtle Player. I lived in the greater Seattle area in 1951-1962 and then again in the 1970s, so my view of the cultural and economic conditions is decidedly different from typical life in 1940. Its more challenging to imagine Seattle as it was in 1926 when my grandfather Shirley moved his family up from Salt Lake City.

Our friends at have a
nifty way for me to see
how things have changed over the decades.

I think they are pivoting on information culled from King County, Washington US census population enumerations. Note below the zoomed in view of the 1940 census showing my grandparents, dad and his siblings living at 420 Wheeler Street.

IMAGE: 420 Wheeler, ED 40-115, Seattle, King, Washington, United States
Population Schedule, Shirley Player household, Sheet 5B, lines 60-64 : viewed 22 April 2012.
My paternal grandfather was to die just two short years later on 15 March 1942, so his work as a proprietor of an automotive service station in the earlier decades is a focus of my research. I estimate the photo below was taken about two years before my grandfather's long battle with cancer. I recognize the home in the photo as 420 Wheeler - how's that for good circa 1941 estimate?

IMAGE: Shirley and Myrtle (Weiser) Player,
420 Wheeler, Seattle, WA circa 1941.
An interactive chart from works like this:
  • Roll your mouse over the graph, to the left and right, noticing the time periods represented. 
We can see from the MooseRoots interactive chart below that while whites comprised nearly 100% of the population in decades prior to my grandfather's arrival in King County, the percentage of Asians steadily grew over time. Much later, I was aware of the strong Asian influence in architecture and asymmetrical landscape design when I lived in the greater Seattle area in the 1970s.

According to the MooseRoots's Education Attainment in King County Over Time Chart below, in 1940 "around 3 out of 10 of people living in King County had earned a high school degree. Over time, this figure grew by 209%, so that by 2010, roughly 9 out of 10 people had earned a high school degree." Clearly my view in the 1970s reflected the understanding that most adults were at least high school graduates.

IMAGE: Uncle Jack (left) and my dad Glen, Player's Service Station,
Seattle, Washington circa 1928, from my personal collection.

From 1926 to 1942 my grandfather was proprietor of the Player Service Station. He would have noticed a gradually dwindling pool of folks ready to learn the automotive mechanics trade, but may have seen a greater number of high school graduates willing to work as gas station and parking lot attendants while working their way through classes at nearby University of Washington. This may explain why my grandfather was so interested in keeping the one mechanic who had worked with him so long. Were reliable skilled mechanics hard to come by?

Visit our friends at, search for an ancestor, then scroll down below the transcribed entry in the 1940 census, to view these sorts of demographic charts for your ancestors' locality.

If you are coming to RootsTech 2016 next week in Salt Lake City, Utah, stop by the MooseRoots booth in the exhibit hall. Tell 'em Ol' Myrt sent ya! 


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