[Genealib] census abbreviations - 1920 BD, MH, BwF

Susan Scouras Susan.Scouras at wvculture.org
Thu Jul 1 13:15:07 EDT 2004

I consulted with my director, Fredrick Armstrong, who serves as West Virginia State Historian.  He remembered a 1923 study of living conditions of miners.  A few keyword searches later, I came up with "Living Conditions in the Bituminous Coal Fields," "Submitted to the United States Coal Commission by the Bituminous Operators's Special Committee, September 20, 1923."  I think this report also was included in an overall report presented to the U.S. Congress:  United States Coal Commission Report, 5 parts, Senate Document 195, 68th Congress, 2nd Session, GPO, 1925.  

This was a study of all aspects of the communities supporting coal mining operations, with a comparison of company towns and non-company towns, including discussions of race and presence of immigrant workers as factors.  (Since this report was written by coal company operators, I'm sure you can figure out which type of community comes out ahead.)  While I did not see any statistical tables or discussion that directly used the information apparently gathered from the 1920 Census, there were numerous mentions of how many miners owned their own homes, of single miners boarding with families, and of miners from the same ethnic groups boarding together, etc., all information which could have been gathered from the census.  

The study included the following coal field areas:  
PENNSYLVANIA:  Central Pennsylvania (Windber and Clearfield) [towns mentioned as "largely visited for shopping and recreation:  Johnstown, Patton, Barnesboro, Ebensburg, Indiana and Punxsutawny]; Pittsburgh and Freeport; Somerset (Somerset County).
WEST VIRGINIA:  Logan (Logan County); Northern West Virginia (Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, and Randolph Counties); Pocahontas and Tug River (no towns or counties specified, but I speculate that it is the Wayne and/or Lincoln County area, since "Tug River" must be the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, which is WV's western border); Williamson (Mingo County area).
OHIO:  Pittsburgh No. 8 Vein.  
KENTUCKY:  Northeastern Kentucky; Kentucky section of the Williamson Field.
ILINOIS:  Belleville; Southern Fields.
KANSAS:  Pittsburg Field.
MISSOURI:  Lexington Field.
ARKANSAS:  Sebastian Field.
Portions of each of these three states are included in the "Southwestern Interstate Field":
COLORADO: Routt; Canyon City; Walsenburg; Trinidad.
WYOMING:  Rock Springs Field.
ALABAMA:  "Majority of the communities studied were in the Warrior River Field," implying there were other communities located elsewhere in Alabama that were included in the study.

Please note that these are not the official geologic names for the various coal fields.  "Pocahontas and Tug River" does not mean the Pocahontas Coal Field, and may even be the name of an individual coal company or companies.  

Those of you who have found marked census records can compare the locations you found with those in the study for matches.

Susan Scouras
Archives and History Library
WV Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd. East
Charleston, WV  25305-0300
(304) 558-0230, Ext. 742

-----Original Message-----
From: Claire Kluskens [mailto:ckluskens at starpower.net]
Sent: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 7:02 AM
To: Librarians Serving Genealogists
Subject: [Genealib] census abbreviations - 1920 BD, MH, BwF


This issue came up in 1999 on Genealib. I was unable to come up with 
the full "story" but here was my analysis.  I suspect the notations 
were added in by the Census Bureau while doing some kind of "coal 
miner" study sometime after the  creation of the 1920 census. If that's 
the case, then I bet a government documents librarian out there can 
come up with a published report on the issue.....

 >>>> Excerpt from GENEALIB, August 26, 1999>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I took a look at the 1920 census of Cross Creek Twp.

This was referring to  Jefferson County Ohio 1920 Census Cross Creek 
Twp "stamped printed" pg no. 14 A, 15A, and 16 B and a few pages past 
those. This is in E.D. #181 >>>>>>>>>>>

I read the weird abbreviations as BD, MH, BwF.  In each case, when the 
weird abbreviation was written in column 13 (year of immigration), it 
was always a U.S.-born individual.  Looking at the occupation column, 
all of the persons were coal miners -- and looking further -- a pattern 

  MH - a coal miner as head of household
BD - a coal miner as a boarder in a household
BwF - a "boy" or young man residing in his father's household and the 
BOY was a coal miner (in a few cases the boy's father was NOT a coal 
miner) - so perhaps BwF is Boy with Father.

Looking closer at the Cross Creek census, there were, of course, 
foreign-born coal miners.  In order to NOT overwrite or obscure the 
year of immigration, the MH, BD, and BwF abbreviations were written 
above the person's marital status or thereabouts.

  These annotations were clearly made at a later time by a different 
person than the census enumerator, since, as you noted, the handwriting 
is different.  As I did not look at other townships in the county, I 
don't know whether these weird abbreviations will be found elsewhere.  
Perhaps somebody in the census bureau added these annotations in order 
to compile statistical data on coal miners.  That's my best guess. 


Hope this helps.  If there are some in the coal mining regions of Ohio, 
then there are probably the same notations all over Pennsylvania as 

Claire Kluskens
NARA microfilm projects archivist

On Jun 28, 2004, at 11:09 AM, Gloria J. Osborne wrote:

> A patron at our library has encountered some odd notations in the
> Pennsylvania 1920 US census. In the column for date of immigration some
> entries have the date while others use MH, Bd, and Bwf. Does anyone 
> know
> what these abbreviations mean?
> Gloria Osborne, Genealogy and Local History Librarian
> Brighton District Library
> 100 Library Drive
> Brighton, MI 48116

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