We have many
African-American genealogists who come to The Odom Library in search of
their family. Many of them can only trace their ancestors to the 1880 US
Census before getting stumped with the 1870 census.
Some of these researchers
can't find their ancestors on the 1870 census and try to go from the 1880
Census to the 1860 Census Slave Schedule. It's a really hard leap of
twenty years through a tumultuous period in our country's history and it
is fraught with problems for researchers.
Many genealogists are
surprised to learn that there were over 400,000 African-Americans free
before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. About half of these were in
the South. Many researchers don't know of the family line they are tracing
was free or slave before 1863, but after looking in 1870 unsuccessfully,
they immediately start looking for slaves and slave owners, pre-Civil War.
There were two census
population schedules in both 1850 and 1860. One was for free inhabitants
and the other for slave inhabitants. Unfortunately, Census Slave Schedules
do not list the names of slaves, but only list the name of slave owners
and the number, age, sex and color of slaves. Many times, researchers will
search Slave Schedules for a slave owner with the same last name as their
ancestor, assuming this slave owner owned their ancestor.
When the researchers don't
find the name they are looking for, they surmise their ancestors must have
moved, and then switch to looking in other county. If they DO find a slave
owner with the same surname as their ancestor, they try to match ages on
the slave schedule with those of their ancestors. If the ages don't match,
they come up with creative reasons why they don't not even, in many cases,
considering that these are probably NOT their ancestors.
Trying to identify
ancestors on a list of slaves with only ages and sex and without any names
is an impossible task.
If these researchers will
look again at the 1870 Census from a different point of view, they might
find their family.
Look in that 1870 census
not for the surname, but for the first name! Names change. If you have
first names and ages of children, and the last name is different...that's
probably your family using another name!
This technique works for
European American families too. Many European surnames became Anglicized,
but the given names remained the same.
In my own McDonald family,
they appear in Sumter County, Georgia in the 1850 census as
McDonald...with all of the children neatly listed with their ages. They
also show up in the 1850 Thomas County census...as McDaniel! Same
children, same ages, same everything except the surname! (They were
traveling from Augusta, South Carolina to Madison County, Florida and
stopped along the way.)
There's a wonderful article in the January/February 2001 Heritage Quest
magazine on this subject, by Tony Burroughs, an internationally known
leader in African-American genealogy. He gives several case histories of
researchers and how this technique really does work!
Heritage Quest has a CD-ROM
Census Index entitled African Americans in the 1870 Census that contains
919,369 entries featuring heads-of-household listed as "Black" or
"Mulatto." It also lists all those listed with African birth who were
indexed in th4e US Federal Census Index. This was searched on eight data
fields including name, age, sex, race, birthplace, state, county and
locality. In addition, the CD contains detailed information on
African-America heritage, slavery routes and genealogy with detailed maps
For ordering information
call 1-800-760-2455 or go to
www.HeritageQuest.com on the Internet. Write: PO Box 540670, North
Salt Lake, UT 84054-0670.