Documents can provide researchers with direct statements and indirect statements. Direct statements state something clearly. Indirect statements are different. They require some inference and “reading into” the document to see information that’s not so obvious.
That’s how it is with certain documents that suggest two individuals were “neighbors.” Tax and census records are organized geographically and were, generally speaking, taken geographically. But sometimes there is a certain amount of meandering around by the census taker or the tax assessor–particularly in rural areas where the terrain and available roads (or lack thereof) may dictate a very non-linear path.
This was driven home to me when I first viewed the 1940 census for my paternal grandparents. I grew up slightly more than a mile from where my paternal grandparents had lived in 1940. My maternal grandmother’s family also lived in the same township. While I was decidedly not living in 1940, many of the families had not moved significantly between then and my arrival on the scene in the late 1960s–particularly those who owned a small farm. As I read the census entries in the order of the enumeration, one thing became clear to me:
the enumerator meandered around the township
People whose farms I knew were quite a distance from each other were on adjacent pages. My paternal grandparents lived in the northeastern corner of the township and families from the central and western portion of the township were enumerated on nearby pages. Landowners who owned adjacent (or very nearly adjacent properties) were several pages apart.
In any enumeration, there will be some eventual backtracking and people who are “near neighbors” will not be enumerated as “near paper neighbors.” It happens in urban areas where people are organized enough to live on perfectly parallel streets that intersect at only right angles. It happens in urban areas where streets are not always straight, not always parallel, and do not always intersect at right angles. It happens in rural areas where roads are not always straight and may meander for one reason or another. And it certainly happens where geography forces the enumeration to be done in a decidedly non-linear fashion.
Being enumerated in the same township (or enumeration district) in a census or listed in the same taxing district means for certain that those people lived (or paid taxes in) the same district. Adjacent names may be near neighbors or they may not.
It’s always worth remembering what a record tells us explicitly and what it suggests to us. There is a difference.