Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

52 Ancestors – #15 Income and Taxes


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.

EstatesAdminDetailGenerations 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.


3 thoughts on “52 Ancestors – #15 Income and Taxes

  1. Hello I just wanted to reach out and let you know how much I enjoyed your postings about the Cooke Family and getting more insight into that side of my family which I never had much contact with, My dad was Michael Robert Cooke and my Grandfather was Leighton Brookemire Cooke, growing up I heard so many stories about that side of the family from my Grampy it was lovely to see the photos you posted with the multiple generations of women! My Grandfather married Audrey Mary Repp Reese. He and my father are in the Pipe Creek Cemetery in Union Bridge Maryland. I was raised in North Carolina and have One daughter who is still living there but about 4 years ago I moved to Colorado and love living here. My name is Wendy and again thanks for the lovely post about geology I love finding things that involve my family tree online!

  2. Wendy! I’m so happy to hear from you, and delighted that my family posts have been interesting and fun for you! I don’t know a lot about Uncle Leighton, your Grampy, but have some letters he wrote me when I started my genealogy research in the years before he died. I’m sorry I never knew your family growing up but we can rectify that now ourselves 🙂 Would love to share information, stories, and pictures with you!

    • Really happy to get a reply from you I believe since my Grampy died when I was only 7, I missed out on a huge part a family I would have really enjoyed knowing of course I heard a lot of stories and have my personal memories of him. When I was a child I spent the best part of my youth living with my grandparents a good deal of the time. My father (his son) had a drinking problem and my mom worked for Western Electric where Grampy had gotten her a job and she worked many hours during the week. The relationship between Grampy and my dad was strained. My Grandfather was huge to me and taught me to read and swim he was an amazing person who made learning everything a game – he even bought me a drum set which I had to play in a basement room he sound proofed in their home!
      My Grandfather was very close to his wifes brother Robert Reese and after my grandfathers death Uncle Bob kept the family stories alive. The way you wrote about the Cooke family was so enjoyable to read and very engaging it gave me a real sense of who they were and spurned me to order the ancestry.com test (which they conveniently had on sale today!) My mom is still living in North Carolina and many of my photos are there but I will investigate the hard drive and see if I can’t post some photos of Leighton (everyone called him LB) for you to see – I named my daughter Lauren Brooke so I could call her LB too! A little bit about myself – I live in Silverton Colorado which is a super tiny town with less than 400 permanent residents. I was married and divorced 2x (learned my lesson), currently I live with my boyfriend of 10 years, still working full time and very engaged in my community. It would be great to get to share stories and know you better although I feel like I do after reading so much of your blog! My mom is also a wealth of information on the Cooke family because my parents married so young so I will pick her brain also. Thank you for responding and have a great day!!! – Wendy

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