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The More I Learn, The Less I Know

School House

Genealogy can be an amazing adventure to new discoveries about your family and the history of their environments. Yes, the "brick walls" can be frustrating but when you take a break and look at someone else's brick wall, you will find new learning opportunities. But I discovered for myself this week that sometimes you get an unpleasant surprise.

Taking a break from the charts and diagrams of my hundreds of DNA matches I took a look at another genealogist's FB post. She was inquiring about how to find out the modern street address for a property that was historically listed in the 1940 and 1950 census as "Route 1." The death certificates for her ancestors also list their address as only "Rt. 1." Where did this designation come from?

According to the US Postal Service (see the link at the bottom of this page to their PDF), in the 1850's most people had to come to town to pick up their mail. Free delivery service to homes in cities began in 1863, and "Rural Free Delivery" to country homes/farms began in the 1890's.

The invention of the automobile brought revisions to Rural Routes in 1916. Congress classified routes as either horse-drawn (at 24 miles) or motorized (at 50 miles). The word "rural" was dropped, and the term largely done away with altogether with the coming of 9-1-1 services.

So much for the history of the USPS lesson! Now, how to find the location of a rural route in the real world of online mapping? The first step is to check the Census boundaries, or the Enumeration District. In our case for 1940, our family was listed on sheet 61-A in E.D. No. 1-12.

1940 Census upper right corner

To find the boundaries making up a district, you can go to the National Archives, or the USCensusGenWeb or your state may have indexes by cities like Texas does (thank you, UT!)

1940 Census Enumeration District Ward 2

Here is the image for the E.D. I was looking for - it indicates Ward 2. You can click on this to make it a little bigger if you like. The NARAS site will let you pan and zoom.

Further investigation leads to the information that the specific street boundaries for this district were:

"Justice Pct 1 outside Palestine City E of Palestine - Brushy Creek Rd and I & G N RR (Missouri Pacific, Palestine - Elkhart Route."

In Texas we can also search Deed Histories. Armed with the ancestors' full names, I went to the appropriate County Clerk's website and entered the last name to find any and all land transactions. This is where having an unusual last name is an absolute blessing. I found six entries between 1931 and 1960 which you can see below (I have privatized the names). It should expand a little to give you a closer view.

Deed Records Anderson County, TX

The earliest document is the original Vendor's Lien from 1931. The property description is underlined, and it remains the same through the last transaction in 1960. We have learned the subdivision name, the original survey name, and that it is 1.5 miles south of the courthouse (which was built in 1919, so that hasn't changed!). It says it fronts Highway 19, which has changed designations since then, and subsequent documents include easements for the adjacent railroad. Now my genealogy compatriot has some more exact information to squint at and find the property.

However, both of us were quite disappointed to see in the next paragraph the following Deed Restriction. "Provided, however, that should said land and premises be transferred or leased or rented to any person of African Blood, then the title and estate hereby covered shall at once revert to the said (seller) and wife, their heirs, and provided further that none of said property shall be used for Gasoline Filling Stations...for a term of Twenty Years..."

Restrictions such as these were included in deeds mainly between the 1920's and the 1960's (even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that state courts could not enforce them) and they became illegal in 1968 with the passing of the Fair Housing Act. It was nigh on impossible in Texas to have the words removed from deeds until 2021, when SB 30 was passed by the Texas Legislature according to a Texas Tribune Article which you can click on to read. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who sponsored the bill said, “There are issues that my colleagues disagree on and may continue to disagree on, but we stand united today in saying that such discriminatory edicts in legal documents in our state should be a thing of the past.”

It just hurts my heart to see this level of hatred, and to see that a gas station would be okay after 20 years but a black family would never be seems even more galling. I wonder if some divine hand was at play to bring me this in the last week of Black History Month?

I believe we have found the street address we were looking for by checking the County Appraisal District website. In Texas you can search by street and block to find the exact modern lot description and current owner. Within a few minutes I found lots in the W. S. McDonald League with the appropriate numbers right next to the railroad, with access to the highway. Success!


As I said at the outset, while most of the time doing historical research leads to some wonderful discoveries, we have to be prepared for less pleasant things; the history of the world is full of unpleasant things. But we have to understand the context of the times and places. If something like this or worse pops up for your own family, review what you know about your ancestors. In this case, the restrictions were forced upon them (just like hundreds if not thousands of other property buyers). Even if our ancestors didn't do better, it's no reason we can't be the ones doing better right now, right?

I would be remiss if I did not also credit another site that I got some hints from on finding addresses for rural roads. Here is a link to a 30+ minute YouTube video with all kinds of handy dandy (and some more technical) tricks and tips:

This was a wonderful learning opportunity for me for which I am grateful. A famous quote whose substance can be traced all the way back to Socrates and forward to Tony Bennet, but most famously attributed to Albert Einstein, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know." Let's talk! How can we help each other? I'm always glad to offer a free peek and quote for your genealogy problem!

Thanks for dropping in again,

Leslie Ryan

USPS whitepaper on rural mail delivery service can be ready here:

No compensation is received for any links or references. No copyright infringement is intended.


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