Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
By Frank Passic
He was the mayor. He was the president of the bank. He was a teacher. He was also a U.S. Census enumerator. This is the story of that man: William D. Schaffner (1876-1948), and his U.S. Census badge.
Will was born and raised in the town of Berger (pronounced BER-jer), located in Boeuf Township, Franklin County, Missouri. This rich farmland area is located west of St. Louis on the south bank of the Missouri River. Will’s father Freidrich “Fritz,” a Swiss immigrant, and mother Susannah, who hailed from Pennsylvania, farmed 186 acres of land a few miles south of town. The family’s farmhouse was an impressive log home which stood for over a century before being moved in the 1980s.
As Will grew up, he continued with his education and became a school teacher. It was during this time that he supplemented his income by becoming a U.S. Census enumerator for the 1900 decennial U.S. Census. Back then, enumerating was performed during the warm month of June. Will was assigned to enumerate his own local area, Boeuf Township, which received its name from the original French settlers.
Will was very diligent and meticulous in his Census assignment. His occupation as a teacher is quite evident by looking at the Census schedules he filled out as he enumerated from farmhouse to farmhouse. Will’s penmanship (or to be politically correct, “penpersonship”) is neat, legible and complete, with no ditto marks. Genealogists, no doubt, wish that all Census enumerators wrote like Will did. How often have you looked at old Census records on microfilm and could not decipher the handwriting of the enumerator?
A look at one particular Census schedule shows that Will did his enumerating on June 20, 1900. He also got to enumerate himself and his family, and was paid for it, too! No refusals at this household. Will’s enumerator signature appears neatly on the top of each schedule page. It is a tidy testament of the work he performed for his local community, his state, and his country, just as the U.S. Census Bureau hires quality representatives today from their own local areas.
Following the 1900 Census, Will was married in 1901 to Cora Kaiser, and their son Joy (a “joy to the world,” according to the family) was born in 1905. Will left the teaching profession in 1904 and became the cashier at the Bank of Berger. It was a position he served for 31 years until the Bank was closed in 1935 during the Great Depression. He then became the president of its successor, the Farmers & Merchants Bank, where he served until his death. Will also helped his town incorporate in 1928, and served as its first Mayor from 1928 to 1947. The population of Berger in the 1930 Census was 231 persons. There were 88 car licenses issued in Berger that year, as well as 19 dog licenses.
In October 2006, an official U.S. Census enumerator badge from the 1900 Decennial was placed on the E-Bay internet auction site. The description stated that this was the Census badge of William D. Schaffner!
The badge is made of pewter, giving it a shiny silverfish color. It measures 44 mm. long (about an inch and three-quarters), and 30 mm. wide. It is shaped in the form of a shield, with an American eagle perched on top. The lettering on the text has been painted black for easy viewing. By comparison, the lettering on the 1910 Census enumerator’s badge was not painted. The arched top text states “UNITED STATES,” surrounded by 15 stars on top, and 3 stars below. In the center in large letters is the word “CENSUS within a rectangular box, and a rising sun design on top. Below within an oval border is the year, “1900.” The background consists of vertical lines and a granular field. The reverse of the badge is plain, and contains a large pin to attach to clothing.
On June 14, 2006, a “country auction” was held in Labadie, MO. The auctioneer was Roy Schroff of Hermann, MO, who himself was a great-great-nephew of Will Schaffner. There were four generations of family items being auctioned there along with a house and land. This included Will’s Census badge. The badge was purchased by a collector, Dave Castens, who subsequently placed the badge of E-Bay. This writer was the successful bidder of the E-Bay offering a few months later.
After contacting the auctioneer, I corresponded with the former owner of the badge, Judy Schmidt, a great-niece of Will. She and other family members supplied yours truly with the biographical and illustrative materials used to research this article. Here is the pedigree of this badge: After Will Shaffner passed away in January, 1948, the badge was inherited by his son Joy. It subsequently was inherited by Joy’s daughter Jane. She put the badge up for auction along with other family items in 1988. There the badge was purchased by great-niece Judy, who held it herself before placing it in the June, 2006 auction. Thus, William D. Schaffner’s 1900 U.S. Census badge had remained with the family for 106 years.
It is a wonderful thing as a collector to be able to trace the pedigree of a particular item back to its original owner, such as Will Schaffner’s U.S. Census badge of 1900. His story adds a “human touch” to this relic of a century ago. It reminds us today of the long heritage the U.S. Census Bureau has had in the lives of people across the country, even in small towns such as Berger, Missouri.
1900 Census Badge
William D. Schaffner (1876-1948)
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic