The Two Minnies

Published on Tuesday, September 15, 2020

My paternal grandmother, Mary Head Poole died in 1944. I was born in 1942 so I don't actually remember her, but photos show that we did indeed meet. For a long time, I knew nothing very little about her. Thanks to US Census records, I learned about her life after marrying my grandfather in 1896, but I still knew nothing about her parents.

Then, while collecting information about my grandfather, I examined the 1892 New York State Census. It one told me that William Poole, my grandfather, was then living in Brooklyn at 73 Schenectady Avenue. On the same page, immediately above William's entry, is a listing for the family of Charles Head, living in the same tenement! He was listed as a 60 year-old painter from England. His wife Elizabeth is the same age and was born in Ireland. They had two daughters aged 25 and 16. Oddly, both daughters are listed with the same name, “Minnie” - a common nickname for Mary. It appears that that William and one of the two neighbor girls fell in love. They married a few years later.

But which girl? William's wife Mary shows in the 1900 US Census as being 24 years old. If correct, that would make her the younger girl. Mary's information in the census from 1900 through 1940 remains consistent with that assumption. According to her obituary notice, she was 68 at the time of her death in 1944, which is also consistent.

But there's a glitch! The 1900 US Census shows Charles Head living with his daughter Minnie, who is now listed as 26 years old. So both of the two 1900 entries for Mary/Minnie Head could reasonably be the younger daughter - or the older daughter, reporting her age incorrectly. With the information we have at this point, we can only guess.

Here's a summary of what my grandmother, Mary Head Poole told the census takers about her age during her life.

Census YearReported Age
1900 US Census24
1905 New York State Census29
1910 US Census34
1915 New York State Census49
1920 US Census44
1925 New York State Census49
1930 US Census54
1940 US Census64

Only the 1915 census is inconsistent. It could be an error made by the census-taker or a slip on the part of my grandmother, reporting her age correctly this one time. We can't know which. For now, I'm continuing to assume that my grandmother was the younger of the two sisters, but it could turn out otherwise. Resolving it would take better information, from a reliable contemporary source about either of the two Minnies.