A simple letter, in a column, on a piece of paper. A guy sits in a room across from a person and writes down bits of information about their family. Who they are, what they are, where they are from, and many more nuggets of information. The US Population Census is an awesome record. The column for race has become one of my favorite columns on these documents. The historical context of race is fascinating and has become a central point in the maternal line of my biological tree.

From the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Population Center (see citation) website in regards to the 1870 US Federal Census enumerator’s instructions:

Color.- It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, “White” is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class Mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class in schedules 1 and 2.”

Indians.-“Indians not taxed” are not to be enumerated on schedule 1. Indians out of their tribal relations, and exercising the rights of citizens under State or Territorial laws, will be included. In all cases write “Ind.” in the column for “Color.” Although no provision is made for the enumeration of “Indians not taxed,” it is highly desirable, for statistical purposes, that the number of such persons not living upon reservations should be known. Assistant marshals are therefore requested, where such persons are found within their subdivisions, to make a separate memorandum of names, with sex and age, and embody the same in a special report to the census office.”

These are pretty specific instructions for the enumerator to identify a person of color with a very vague distinction. “M” for mulatto. For those that may not know, “mulatto” is an antiquated word used to describe a person of mixed-race. What mixed race you ask? Well, that is not so easy to explain. The traditional meaning is a mix of a white and a black parent. It has also been used to identify other mixed-race persons. Another of those persons being my 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers, Lettie Escoe  Evans (Wiley’s wife) and her mother, Mary Barheche Escoe.

Do these names sound familiar? I hope so. They are both listed on the 1906 Dawes Final Rolls of the Muscogee Creek Nation and I wrote about them in the last several posts. But Indians aren’t supposed to be enumerated on the census according to the instructions. But they are on there…just not as “Indians”. Are they Indian, Black, White, or Mulatto? So let’s take a count. That is three of my ancestors who are listed as “mulatto” on the 1870 US Census. Maybe the 1880 US Census will clear all this up.

Uh oh…

Citation: Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.


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