Tuesday's Genealogy Tip

Tuesday’s Genealogy Tip – The Census Category “Race”

Tuesday's Genealogy Tip - The "Race" category on the older census records can be confusing when you ancestor is listed differently each time. Learn why that might have happened.

I have recently been asked by a friend why her ancestor was listed as “black” on one census and “mulatto” on another.  Learn why this could have occurred.


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  • EBC

    First of all I LOVE getting your emails. I’m always happy to see them in my inbox and your genealogy tips generally have something to everyone.

    Just when I began wondering if you would have something related to slaveowning whites or African Americans (particularly out of North Carolina), I stumbled upon your video about Race.

    Couple of things: First, when referring to African Americans, it’s also important that you also remind researchers– Black and White– that census takers, draft board workers and others would also sometimes record a Black person’s race as White (using their own observation). I was researching an African American man who, throughout his lifetime, was consistently designated all three: Black, White and Mulatto.

    This also goes for Whites as well. There is a white researcher, with whom I share a common ancestor, who cannot even fathom that he is descended from a free Black man, writing online “This Cuffee Mayo is not our Cuffee Mayo.” Yes, “they” are one in the same and OUR Cuffee Mayo, in 1868, helped rewrite the NC state constitution and was one of the first Negroes in state history elected to the NC Legislature.

    Lastly, I could tell you took great pains to broach the Race topic carefully. Just a tip: Please don’t write or say the term “a Black.” Unfortunately, you used the term twice in your video. “A Black,” along with “a Colored,” is considered very offensive to most African Americans. When referencing the long-ago census, it’s totally okay to say “his race was recorded as Black” or “Eli Hinton, of Knightsdale, NC, was a Black person. “A Black person” is okay, “a Black” is not okay.

    This isn’t just being politically correct; it’s super important.
    I hope this small, but vital tip has helped you a fraction as much as your email advice has helped me. It has truly been a gift to my spirit.

    • LisaL

      Thank you so much for your kind words AND your tips! I never want to offend anyone, and greatly appreciate your effort to guide me in the correct terminology. Thank you!

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