Glitch alert: Essfa in Vermont?


This might not be a glitch. It might just be my imagination running away with me. But I’ll put it out there anyway.

We all know there are flaws with the SSA data. I’ve blogged about the baby name glitch of 1989 and the Korea-Kansas mis-codes, for instance. And data scientist David Taylor made a slide deck illustrating several issues with the SSA data a few years ago.

So my question is this: Could Essfa, a one-hit wonder from 1921, be another flaw?

According to the SSA data, the name Essfa was given to 6 babies in 1921, and all 6 of these babies were born in Vermont.

But when we look for these Essfas in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), we get…nothing. Not a single Essfa from anywhere, born in any year.

This doesn’t prove anything, but it is very curious.

Then there’s the fact that all these Essfas were born in Vermont, a relatively small state not known for adventurous baby-naming. The SSA’s Vermont-specific data from 1921 puts oddball Essfa on par with classics like Emma and Julia:

All baby names given to 6 babies in Vermont in 1921, according to SSA

Again, very curious.

After doing more research, I was only able to find a single person named Essfa who was born in Vermont in 1921. The intriguing part? She had multiple identities:

  • She was born Essfa Estella Bickford Vermont on May 7, 1921.
  • She became Essfa E. Davis upon marrying William Earl Davis in Vermont in 1937.
  • She became Essfa E. Millette upon marrying Rupert Frank Millette in New Hampshire in 1941.
  • She became Essfa E. Walker upon marrying Howard C. Walker in New Hampshire in 1953.
  • She became Essfa E. Davis (again) upon marrying Arthur I. Davis in Connecticut in 1964, and passed away in 1976 as a Davis.

And I found a sixth alias — in Billboard magazine, oddly enough. For decades Billboard operated a mail-forwarding service for traveling performers. The name “Essfa E. White” appeared regularly on their Letter List from 1945 until 1948. (She was also listed under the surname Millette once, in 1946.)

So we know for sure that one Essfa was born in Vermont in 1921, and that this Essfa used at least six different names (if you count Davis twice) throughout her lifetime.

At this point, I can’t help but wonder whether this particular Essfa was counted 6 different times in the SSA data somehow.

What do you think?

Source: Billboard – Wikipedia

Image: Adapted from Data loss of image file (public domain)

4 thoughts on “Glitch alert: Essfa in Vermont?

  1. I think this is perfectly possible. I have kept some versions of the zipped data from SSA and I see that sometimes for older years numbers are getting one up or one down with the next release. So name changes, corrections, and maybe even double counting can be in the data.

  2. I’ve noticed those corrections too. The SSA not only releases a new set of data every year, but also updates many of the older sets.

  3. I’m not sure you’ll see this since it’s been years since you posted this… but Essfa was my Great Grandmother… and I’m trying to find any and all information on her… are you saying she was a performer? She married my great grand father Rupert Millette and my Grandfather is really wanting to know anything about his mom. Thank you in advance

  4. Hi Bethany,

    I don’t know exactly what Essfa did for a living. She may have been a performer herself, or she may have worked alongside performers in some way.

    Billboard‘s “Letter List” was for anyone (performers, agents, advertisers, etc.) who lived on the road in association with circuses, carnivals, and other traveling shows. People who didn’t have a permanent mailing address.

    It looks like Essfa always picked up her mail at Billboard’s Cincinnati office.

    The first magazine I see her in is the April 28, 1945, issue. The last one I see her in is the March 6, 1948, issue.

    I hope this helps. :)

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