Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Paying taxes requires money and for most of us, that money comes from working or savings of some kind, perhaps an inheritance. This week’s prompt is about taxes and I’m fudging that to talk about income that was used to pay those taxes.
In 1977, I was thrilled to have my first full-time professional job with a salary of $8,000. Now that sounds ridiculous, but the cost of living was much less then as well. When my parents married in 1951, my mom earned $854/year as a secretary at Merck while my dad brought home a princely $248/month. They bought their first house for $13,000, paid for using a VA loan.
Let’s put that in perspective and look at the income of their parents from the 1940 census, just eleven years earlier.
My mom’s family lived in Newark, New Jersey, where her father was a salesman for a water meter company. He worked 40 hours a week with an annual income of $1,500. He owned an inherited paid-for house valued at $6,500. His wife was a housewife and there were six members of the household, including his mother, brother, and sister-in-law.
My father’s family lived in rural North Carolina, where both of my paternal grandparents worked 48 hours a week. Granddaddy was a “regular helper” at a tobacco company earning $1,500/year and my grandmother was a seamstress at a pressing club (now known as a dry cleaners), earning $650. They owned their home and were paying a mortgage as well as supporting a household of seven, including both of my grandmother’s parents.
Mom’s grandparents lived in the New York City area and they had urban-type jobs. My Irish immigrant ancestor William Cooke was a shoemaker in Brooklyn; his son (and my g-grandfather) Robert sold paper. The Heginbothams were all hatters in Manhattan – hatters and milners and hat trimmers. Thomas Heginbotham‘s father William was a hatter in Cheshire, England, too, which is where he learned the trade. William John Flanders was born in England as well, but he was a salesman – gentlemen’s clothes and gloves, going on the road as a “commercial traveler” by 1920. His father was a horse breeder and gentleman farmer from a long line of English fen-country farmers.
Generations of my dad’s family were farmers on their own or rented lands. Most of them didn’t leave wills and their estates administration records are full of clues about their success. I love looking at inventories of their belongings – candlesticks and pots, spinning wheels and farm tools, feather beds, honey, and cows. And sometimes there are names of people casually listed as property. Those are the records that stop me in my tracks. This is part of an inventory of my 5th-g-grandfather, John Goodwin, who died in 1815. He is not the only North Carolina ancestor who owned slaves; although most did not, it’s still something I have to sort through.