The Cleveland Gordian Knot (A Genealogical Puzzle), Part One: William E. Campbell in the Census

I call this branch of my relatives a “Gordian Knot” because their story (and the records telling that story) are so complex and confusing as to seem impossible to solve. But with well-honed genealogical methodology and analysis skills, you can make like Alexander the Great and cut right through the snarl. For the sake of spinning a good yarn (pun oh-so-very intended), we’ll begin in the middle.

Campbell 1900
The James Campbell Family of McCurdy St, Cleveland, Ohio in the 1900 U.S. Census.1

This is the 1900 U.S. Census enumeration of the James Campbell family at 56 McCurdy Street in Cleveland, Ohio. It seems like a fairly straightforward record with internally consistent information: James (age fifty-three) and Fannie (age fifty-seven) Campbell, who immigrated from England in 1869 and 1871 respectively, were married in about 1881 when they were in their early thirties. They had two children, both born in Ohio: sixteen year-old Jennie in December 1883 and 15[?] year-old William in January 188[?]. Fannie had given birth to ten children, two of whom were living. James worked as a carpenter, Jennie as a shoe saleslady, and William as a messenger boy. James was a naturalized citizen (in 1900 his citizenship would have extended to Fannie through marriage2), and he owned their mortgaged home.

If the only record you had of this family was this one census sheet, you would have no compelling reason to believe the Campbell family was anything other than exactly what it appears to be: a pair of English immigrant parents with their two American-born children.

You’d be wrong, even though the decade or so long gap between Fannie’s and James’s immigration(s) and their marriage is the only thing even close to a red flag here. The gap doesn’t inherently conflict with any of the information about the James Campbell family in the 1900 Census, but it is curious. Both Fannie’s and James’s twenties are largely unaccounted for in the information we can glean from this record.

Campbell 1910
The William Campbell Family of Cumberland Ave, Cleveland, Ohio in the 1910 U.S. Census.3

Moving on to the 1910 Census, we find William Campbell (age thirty-four), a street railway conductor, living with his wife, Eveleyin (age eighteen), and his widowed mother, Fannie (age sixty-one). William has magically aged about nine years between 1900 and 1910, but such things are not uncommon with census records, which is why they should always be cross-referenced with other records–especially in this case, as we’ll soon see. Fannie’s immigration year (1872) is only one year off from the 1871 date on the census ten years prior, but instead of having given birth to ten children (two living), this census says she’d given birth to six children, all living. That’s a pretty major conflict–a big enough one that you might be inclined to start believing that perhaps this Fannie and William Campbell, living in a rented home at 10004 Cumberland Avenue in Cleveland, aren’t the same ones who lived at 56 McCurdy St in 1900. But they are. I promise.

Although the 1910 Census explicitly states that Fannie Campbell is William Campbell’s mother, and although this information is consistent between the two censuses we’ve observed so far in almost every way, there’s just this one seemingly tiny thing. If Fannie Campbell, who according to both the 1900 and 1910 Censuses was born in England and immigrated to the U.S. in 1871/2, was William Campbell’s mother, why does the 1910 Census say William Campbell’s mother was born in New York? If you look closely, it appears that the enumerator began to write “England,” but then crossed it out in favor of New York, as if he’d been corrected as he was writing.


For now, let’s skip ahead to 1920.

Campbell 1920
The William E. Campbell Family of Lamontier Ave, Cleveland, Ohio in the 1920 U.S. Census.4

In 1920, William E. Campbell, a railway conductor, was renting his house at 9601 Lamontier Ave in Cleveland, Ohio. He lived with his wife, Mary, his three year-old daughter Mary Jane, and a boarder named John Callan (a widow from West Virginia who worked as an engineer in a stationary shop). William’s reported age is once again inconsistent with the previous census, although it’s within reasonable striking distance of his age in the 1900 Census. But Eveleyin and Fannie from 1910 are gone, and this time William’s mother’s birthplace has been given as Pennsylvania.  Fannie would’ve been seventy-one years old in 1920, so it’s possible she’d died by then, or perhaps she was simply living somewhere else. As for Eveleyin, this Mary is twenty-eight where Eveliyn was eighteen in the 1910 Census. It’s possible that Mary is a middle name and that the two women were the same person, but if so, her birthplace shifted from Ohio to Pennsylvania, and her parents swapped birthplaces.

Campbell 1930
The William E. Campbell Family of Columbus St, Bedford, Ohio in the 1930 U.S. Census.5

The William E. Campbell family lived at 360 Columbus Street in Bedford, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) in 1930. No longer a renter, William owned their house and he still worked as a street [railway] car conductor. His age, forty-four, is (at last) consistent with the previous census, as well as the 1900 Census. His mother’s birthplace, Pennsylvania, is consistent with the previous census as well. William’s wife, Mary’s data is also consistent, with the addition of the middle initial H on this census. Information about their daughter, Mary J[ane], is also consistent between 1920 and 1930.

William and Mary’s ages at marriage were given as twenty-seven and twenty-one, respectively. Based on their ages in this census, their marriage date was about 1913, three years after William was living with his wife Eveleyin in 1910, thus lending more credence to the theory that Mary and Eveleyin are in fact not the same person.

Campbell 1940
The William E. Campbell Family of Columbus St, Bedford, Ohio in the 1940 U.S. Census.6

In 1940, the Campbell family was still living at 360 Columbus Street in Bedford, Ohio, and William E. Campbell was still a conductor for a street railway. His age, fifty-two is once again inconsistent from the previous census, but not by very much. Data about his wife, Mary H, is totally consistent with the 1930 census, as is the data about Mary Jane, who by now was twenty-three years old and working as a bookkeeper for a wholesale paint factory.

Unlike previous censuses, in which there is (usually) no way to know who told the census taker what about who, the 1940 census enumerators indicated their informants by marking them with a circled “x.”7 In the Campbell family’s case, the informant was the wife, Mary H Campbell, which is going to be important later.

So. We’ve traced William E. Campbell across forty years and five census records, which, for all the consistent data they’ve provided, have also created a host of questions surrounding several inconsistencies:

  1. Was William Campbell’s mother from England? Or was she from New York, or Pennsylvania?
  2. Was Fannie Campbell actually William’s biological mother?
  3. Did Fannie have ten children, two of whom survived, or six children, all of whom survived?
  4. When exactly was William E. Campbell born? (The smaller fluctuations in his age from census to census might be resolved by comparing his birth month to the official census date, but other shifts are too large to be tidied up that way.)
  5. Did Fannie Campbell die before 1920, or did she just move out?
  6. Are Eveleyin and Mary Campbell the same person?
  7. What were James and Fannie Campbell each up to before they got married in their thirties?

As you’ll quickly see with the Campbells and their extended relations in Part Two: The William E. Campbell Vital Records, the more questions you answer, the more questions you have. If ever there was a case of genealogical research question whack-a-mole, it’s this family. Luckily, they lived in Cleveland, a city that is nothing short of a goldmine, records-wise, both in in terms of quantity of records kept as well as their availability.

Since I’ve broken with the common geneablogging practice of announcing it in the lede, at this point you’re probably wondering how exactly I fit into this picture. “Eveleyin,” whose name was actually spelled Evelyn, was my great-great grandmother, and if it isn’t obvious at this point, William E. Campbell was not my great-great grandfather. But William and I are related in other ways (yes, ways, plural), and I don’t just mean that he was “the husband of my great-great grandmother.”

Stay tuned, because this plot twists like Chubby Checker. Part Two.

1. 1900 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, population schedule, Cleveland City, Ward 23, p. 271 (stamped) ED 114, sheet 6-A, dwelling 66, household 111, James Campbell; database with images, “United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 March 2018) , Ohio > Cuyahoga > ED 114 Precinct C Cleveland City Ward 23 > image 11 of 46; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1256; cropped and enhanced with contrast adjustment.
2. Marian L. Smith, “Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940,” Prologue Magazine Volume 30, No. 2, Summer 1998; online edition, National Archives ( : accessed 9 March 2018).
3. 1910 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, population schedule, Cleveland City, Ward 19, p. 172 (stamped), ED 293, sheet 26-B, dwelling 14, household 21, William Campbell; database with images, “United States Census, 1910,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 march 2018), Ohio > Cuyahoga > Cleveland Ward 19 > ED 293 > image 52 of 54; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1173.
4. 1920 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, population schedule, Cleveland City, Ward 16, p. 53 (stamped), ED 334, sheet 35-B, dwelling 585, household 845, William E. Campbell; database with images, “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 March 2018), Ohio > Cuyahoga > Cleveland Ward 16 > ED 334 > image 70 of 112; citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1368.
5. 1930 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, population schedule, Bedford Village, Ward C.C. 40, p. 97 (stamped), ED 18-540, sheet 8-B, dwelling 193, household 213, William E. Campbell; database with images, “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 March 2018), Ohio > Cuyahoga > Bedford > ED 540 > image 16 of 42; citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1761.
6. 1940 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, population schedule, Bedford City, Ward B, p. 87 (stamped), ED 18-5, dwelling 1, Wm E Campbell; database with images, “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 9 March 2018), Ohio > Cuyahoga > Bedford City, Bedford City, Tract BD-2 > 18-5 Bedford City (Tract BD-2 – part) bounded by (N) Columbus, city limits; (E) city limits; (S) Solon Rd; (W) Worthfield Rd > image 1 of 22; citing NARA digital publication T627.
7. U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Instructions to Enumerators; Population and Agriculture 1940,” p. 42, image copy, ( : accessed 9 March 2018).


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