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Census Manual

Census Manual

Censuses provide the framework for much of the family history research that we do. Every once in a while, it is useful to consult the actual instructions that were given to enumerators for that particular census year. The University of Minnesota has posted them online to the eternal gratification of all genealogists. Of course, we all know that not every enumerator followed the instructions to the letter, but I’ve also found that what we think was meant by a census question is not always that simple. As a good example, let’s look at how the instructions for defining “black” (colored, negro, etc.) evolved over time:

In 1860 and 1870, a blank space under Color implied “White”:

Color.– Under heading 6, entitled “Color,” in all cases where the person is white leave the space blank; in all cases where the person is black without admixture insert the letter “B”; if a mulatto, or of mixed blood, write “M”;if an Indian, write “Ind.” It is very desirable to have these directions carefully observed.

By 1880 that was no longer the case:

Color–It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, “white” is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class in schedules 1 and 5.

(What scientific results depended on this?)

 By 1900, there was no “Mulatto” category anymore:

Color- Write “W” for white; “B” for black (negro or of negro descent); “Ch” for Chinese; “JP” for Japanese, and “In” for Indian, as the case may be.

 By 1910, “Mulatto” was back, with a new definition for “black”:

Color or race.-Write “W” for white; “B” for black; “Mu” for mulatto; “Ch” for Chinese; “Jp” for Japanese; “In” for Indian. For all persons not falling within one of these classes, write “Ot” (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated. For census purposes, the term “black” (B) includes all persons who are evidently full-blooded negroes, while the term “mulatto” (Mu) includes all other persons having some proportion or perceptible trace of negro blood.

By 1920, there was a slew of other color/race choices:

Color or race.-Write “W” for white, “B” for black; “Mu” for mulatto; “In” for Indian; “Ch” for Chinese; “Jp” for Japanese; “Fil” for Filipino; “Hin” for Hindu; “Kor” for Korean. for all persons not falling within one of these classes, write “Ot” (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated. For census purposes the term “black” (B) includes all Negroes of full blood, while the term “mulatto” (Mu) includes all Negroes having some proportion of white blood.

 For both 1930 and 1940, the new word “Negro” got detailed (although with conflicting guidelines), and notice the ‘Other Mixed Races’:

Color or race.-Write “W” for white, “B” for black; “Mus” for mulatto; “In” for Indian; “Ch” for Chinese; “Jp” for Japanese; “Fil” for Filipino; “Hin” for Hindu; “Kor” for Korean. For a person of any other race, write the race in full. Negroes.-A person of mixed white and Negro blood should be returned as a Negro, no matter how small the percentage of Negro blood. Both black and mulatto persons are to be returned as Negroes, without distinction. A person of mixed Indian and Negro blood should be returned a Negro, unless the Indian blood predominates and the status as an Indian is generally accepted in the community.

Other mixed races.-Any mixture of white and nonwhite should be reported according to the nonwhite parent. Mixtures of colored races should be reported according to the race of the father, except Negro-Indian (see par. 151).

 This nation’s preoccupation with color, especially when that color was black, is evident. It is also apparent that centuries of miscegenation had forever changed what the definition of that would include.

 Take a look at some of the enumerator instructions and tell me what surprises you. I got a real kick out of how detailed the instructions were for Occupation, as well as this note about getting information on certain classes of people in 1880:

The law requires a return in the case of each blind, deaf and dumb, insane or idiotic, or crippled person. It not infrequently happens that fathers and mothers, especially the latter, are disposed to conceal, or even deny, the existence of such infirmities on the part of children. In such cases, if the fact is personally known to the enumerator, or shall be ascertained by inquiry from neighbors, it should be entered on the schedules equally as if obtained from the head of the family.

Elizabeth Shown-Mills, on her Evidence Explained website, has an excellent QuickLesson about the importance of knowing census instructions.

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