Surnames and Family Research Forum Archive
Re: Racial Classifications - Are they reliable at
In Response To: Racial Classifications - Are they reliable at all? ()
K - they can be useful at times - when tracking someone.
The shift between 1880 and 1900 can be explained by the fact that in 1900 there was no mulatto classification. They went back to using it in 1910 and to a point in 1920 (which varied from state to state).
If you have two John Jacksons in a town - one listed as black and the other mulatto in 1870 and 1880, (the same age) - and then you find them both in 1900 as black, but in 1910 - you go back to one being listed mulatto and the other as colored or black, you can feel reasonably assured that you know which is which.
As pointed out by other posters - since the classifications were based on phenotype and the eyes of the census taker - or based on viewing only one or two people in a household (or asking the neighbors) there is no real scientific validity to the categories from a research standpoint.
I have tracked families where the category is consistant over time, I've found families where it varied, and I have family members listed as mulatto who in no way shape or form would even fit into the unscientific category of "mixed" that it seemed to be. I have also found this to be true in the reverse - some census takers didn't like the category at all and in one county there will be mulattos and blacks - while right next door in a nighboring county everyone is listed as black. Go figure.
And as been pointed out before in many previous posts - mulatto does not indicate that the person had one "white" and one "black" parent.
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