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Re: "Free White Mulattoes" in 1860
In Response To: Re: "Free White Mulattoes" in 1860 ()
Thanx for the posting with all best wishes.
Ancestry Daily News
• Ancestry Daily News, 11 March 2004
Tick marks are a too-common cause of errors in the interpretation of census data. From 1850 forward, unexplained markings are rampant on the microfilmed and digitized pages that we regularly consult. Worse, the fact that we are using filmed images or digitized images made from the film, rather than the original manuscripts, makes it harder to discern exactly what was written by the enumerator and what markings might have been added later by some other party.
The problem is not so hard to counter, if we understand two things: why the tick marks exist and what instructions were given to each year's census taker.
Why Tick Marks?
Unfortunately, the federal copy, from a researcher's standpoint, has been adulterated. Beginning in 1850, the purpose of the population schedule was greatly expanded. Rather than being just a document that counted heads for the apportionment of congressional seats, it was designed to collect statistics by which America could define the social and economic characteristics of its population. That change gave birth to the tick marks.
Using the federal copies, bureau statisticians tallied every type of data. These analyses were then published by congress, for each census year, in statistical compendiums that examine age patterns, migration, occupations, marriage trends, crop production, etc. In the process of making these analyses, the statisticians added many marks to the original pages to prevent tallying errors. In most cases, they made their marks in places and ways that are clearly extraneous. In other cases, however, they added their marks in columns also used by the enumerators.
Points 1, 2, and 3 are correct. All other points err--including the crucial conclusion that one thousand or so specific individuals had Indian ancestry.
The Source of the Confusion
To properly interpret the census data, we need to do two things:
Understanding the Instructions
Instructions for Tick Marks. In 1850 and 1860, the only columns for which enumerators were authorized to insert anything resembling a tick mark were columns 10, 11, and 12. If column 10 (married during the preceding 12 months) applied to an individual, the enumerator was to “make a mark, or dash.” If column 11 applied (attended school within those 12 months), the enumerator was to “make a mark, thus (1).” That is, he was to write one, using an Arabic numeral. If column 12 applied (over 20 and unable to read or write), the enumerator again was to insert a 1. It is important to emphasize here that the proper marks were to be dashes or ones, not tick marks.
Instructions for the Race Column. Explicitly, in 1850 and 1860, the enumerators were told: "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, insert the letter B; if mulatto, insert M. It is very desirable that these particulars be carefully regarded."
On the microfilmed 1860 return for Marshall County, you will see that the enumerator followed instructions exactly. He recorded race for only a handful of individuals (“mulattoes”) because everyone else in his jurisdiction was white.
What you will not see, anywhere, is the term “free white mulattoes” that was said to be "applied” to that thousand or so individuals. That term was devised by the author of “Marshall Mulattoes” in an effort to describe not only the tick marks but also a corresponding “correction” that he had trouble interpreting.
No. white males, ___ No. colored males. ___
On many pages of the census, the enumerator erred in his bottom-of-the-page totals. Corrections were added. In analyzing these corrections, you will want to distinguish between the handwriting of the original enumerator and that of the individual making the alterations.
The correction made to totals on page 24 seems to be the basis for the author's conclusion that all individuals with tick marks were “free white mulattoes.” Even here, however, he recognized that this conclusion contradicts itself. Regarding page 24, he stated:
"This page had all persons totaled as whites, then scratched out and totaled with the coloreds. This page totaled 18 colored males and 22 colored females [i.e., 18 and 22 had tick marks], for a total of 40 people, meaning even people who were not marked as mulattoes were totaled with the coloreds."
As you examine the page yourself, you see that the totals for “white males” and “white females” are not “scratched out.” More importantly, they are in a hand totally different from that of the enumerator. The mistake that the census taker made on this one page was to put his totals in the “colored” column rather than the “white” column.
When the statistician at the Census Bureau processed that return, he corrected all of the totals where the original enumerator made a counting error. Those corrections appear in much lighter ink, using a pen with a finer point and different penmanship. On the troublesome page 24, the enumerator put his “white” totals into the “colored” column whose blanks fall just under the race column. Therefore, the Bureau statistician inserted the correct totals in the “white” columns. However, he did not scratch out the totals that the enumerator haphazardly placed in the “colored” column. Elsewhere, in the correction of “white” totals, the lack of space for those corrections caused the Bureau employee to write his “white” corrections atop part of the “colored” column.
The Federal Census Bureau's corrected statistics for the total number of free people of color in Marshall County, 1860, was not “a thousand” but eight.
Understanding the Ticks in the Race Column
As you analyze the pages more closely, you will see that the tick marks in that blank column correspond to every instance in which the individual was born outside the state of Mississippi. Those born within Mississippi have no tick mark. This, of course, explains the riddle the author raised: Why would so many families have some individuals with tick marks and some without? It was not their ethnicity that was “mixed.” It was their states of birth.
Watching for "Red Flags"
Playing devil's advocate, I suggest the following:
Genealogical research can be an expensive hobby. Faced with a choice between investing our limited resources in guidebooks or in materials that give us actual data, it is tempting to choose the data and forego the guides. The present example, in which one small misunderstanding has created widespread confusion for genealogists working in Marshall County, Mississippi, illustrates why it is important for every serious researcher to invest in a basic library of essential guides.
2 . These publications are available in the Government Documents department of most college, university, and large urban libraries.
3. Bureau of the Census, Twenty Censuses: Population and Housing Questions, 1790–1980 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1979); and Jason G. Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000 (Washington: U.S. Department of Commerce/Census Bureau, 2002). Gauthier's expansion of the 1979 publication deletes some valuable portions of the original work but adds informative background discussions.
4. Twenty Censuses, 14 (1850) and 16 (1860).
5 . In some other years, the enumerator was instructed to insert in a particular column an “affirmation mark,” resembled a long slash, which one might generically call a tick mark.
6 . Twenty Censuses, 14.
7 . University of Virginia Library, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, Historical Census Browser, GeoStat Center: Collections.
Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, is author of the best-selling Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian, and the creator and principal lecturer of the popular Advanced Methodology track of the Samford University Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research. Her first historical novel, Isle of Canes, is an epic account of a legendary Louisiana Creole family, and will be released by Ancestry in May 2004.