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Surnames and Family Research Forum Archive

Re: Racial Classifications - Are they reliable at

E.T., I totally agree with you, and this is something I have been trying to get across to others researching their ancestors based on the fact that they say "mulatto" in the census. To many, mulatto means the person was part Native American, which is not true. That may have been the original meaning when the census was first started, but as time went by, it was obvious that it was being applied at the discretion of the census taker. And there were certain years where the term "mulatto" was not used at all in the census as far as I have seen, every person of any color was listed as "black". Then there were the years where the individual members of a family were listed as every race option available - I can't tell you how many families I've seen where the parents would be listed as black, while the children would be listed as "mulatto" for some, and "black" for others. Obviously, the census taker was going by the color of the skin, and not the actual race, because those same families would be listed alternately as "white" in another census, then "black" again in the other, so you can see exactly what was going on there. There is one website I've seen on the net where an apparently white person posted her entire family tree, listing the various names and places where she found the families. The family originated in North Carolina from a paternal line which is very definitely of African American origins, while the wife of that first ancestor belongs to a line of mixed heritage, and it also happens to be one of the families that I have researched. All of the census records regarding this family after 1850 list the family as white, the family moved out of their birth county and moved to the other side of the state and became reclassified, yet it is known that the wife's family was not white and they stayed in the same county of their birth. The family that remained in the county of origin, welcome with open arms the descendants of the family that moved away who have accepted what has always been known. But the person on that website writes that she totally believes that her family wasn't the same one that was shown in pre 1860 census, and that her family was always white, and there must have been another family in the county with the same exact names who were recorded in the early census, despite the fact that the marriage records, the identity of the husband, and the identities of the wife and the children is perfectly well known, right down to the bondsman being a member of the bride's family. That person is living in a fantasy world and she is perfectly welcome to continue to believe what she wants, but she will always be depriving herself of knowing her real history. And it is one of the reasons why one mustn't base too much of their reliance on the race classifications in the census. Use it as a basis, then find out more about the people and the area where they lived to get to the truth.

Deloris


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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