From the April 8, 1960 edition of the Gazette:

When Miss Marjorie Manter, the decennial census enumerator for the up-Island sector, called at Grover O. Ryan’s house at Lobsterville the other day, she talked to Mr. Ryan’s sister and housekeeper, Miss Eva K. Ryan. Miss Manter may not have known it, but exactly half a century ago, Miss Ryan, then a young woman, was performing a similar duty. She was the 1910 enumerator for Gay Head and Chilmark.

Miss Ryan found that when the census taker came to her house this year she answered many more questions than she once asked of the householders she called on, and she wondered when she was talking about those early days to the reporter, whether the current census and that one fifty years ago were really part of the same chain.

Sitting in the pleasant dining room of the Ryan house, which has a view across rolling land to Menemsha Bight, Miss Ryan declared, with her typical good humor, “I can’t remember things the way a lot of old people can.”

But she remembered quite clearly that it was a young gentleman named Simon Devine, who had gallantly pressed his horse and wagon into use to provide her with transportation around to the houses of Chilmark and Gay Head in order to count noses.

And she also remembered that Rev. Clarence L. Whitman, who was the pastor of the Gay Head Baptist Church in 1910, assisted her in deciphering the paper work the federal government insisted upon.

Although census-taking in 1910 was a simpler matter than it is now, it was harder work, mainly because of the transportation. There were few paved roads then, and automobiles were a rarity on the Island. In fact, Miss Ryan recalled, there were not even as many roads in the uppermost of the up-Island towns as there are today.

So even with a congenial young man to do the driving, it took considerable fortitude for the young woman to travel around all the sandy lanes and roads of Gay Head and Chilmark to enumerate the residents of the towns.

Miss Ryan believes that the year-round population of the two towns were not too much different then than they are now, so it seems even more remarkable that she made her count complete in five days. As to differences in population, though, she points out that Gay Head is undoubtedly the possessor of more Vanderhoops today, or at least more Vanderhoop households, and she enumerated the younger branches of the great Gay Head family who have moved from the older homesteads in to new houses in recent years.

In Chilmark, she said, hardly a house she visited during the 1910 census taking contains the same family today. She named several ancient houses now owned by summer people that once housed old Chilmark families, and most of them seemed to be branches of the Tiltons. The census enumerator for Chilmark in 1910 had a problem that not many have had since, a problem that, it is certain, Miss Manter won’t have this year. That was to take the census on Noman’s Land, which was and still, to all intents and purposes, is part of the township of Chilmark, the Navy notwithstanding.

Fifty years ago, the Henry B. Davis family was living on Noman’s, with Mr. Davis appropriately known as the King of Noman’s. And it was Miss Ryan’s job to get to the island and count all the Davies.

“My father took me over in his sailboat,” she said. Her father was Charles H. Ryan, memorable as one of the Island’s great lobster fishermen whose activities created the community of Lobsterville.

Miss Ryan set about the task of counting the “king” of the island, his “queen” and a number of little “princes” and “princesses.” One of the last named was a child known as Lillian, who, when she was 10 years old was to move to the Vineyard with her family, grow up and eventually marry Daniel Manter, and have a daughter named Marjorie, who, in 1960, would bring the story full circle by coming to Lobsterville to take the census from Miss Ryan.

Another Noman’s “princess,” a half-sister of Lillian, is today Mrs. Lina B. Call of Edgartown.

In 1910, besides taking the census and being courted by Simon Devine, Miss Ryan was occupied with the study of music, and took instruction in both voice and piano. She claimed she never did anything with her musical knowledge, but that remains a matter of opinion, for she has contributed her voice to several choirs, in Cambridge, in New Hampshire, where she worked for more than twenty years on the staff of a private school for boys, and of course in Gay Head. She is currently substituting for Mrs. Linus S. Jeffers, the regular musical director at the Gay Head Baptist Church, who is away on vacation. Today, she vibrantly belies her seventy-seven years by her vigorous activities and forceful personality, keeping house for her brother Grover in the old family homestead, which has been called Nestlenook for generations, and pursuing one of her favorite pastimes, looking after the wild birds that have found Nestlenook an inviting place to rest, and sometimes stay.

Compiled by Hilary Wall