My Family Tree

February 21st, 20103:39 pm @ Angela Odom


My Maternal Great-Great Grandfather's Brother

Friday and Saturday were pain days for me. I could blame the pain on the coolness of the days which eventually turned rainy by Saturday or perhaps it was due to something else. Whatever the case, I found myself able to do very little in the way of activity sans necessity.

To keep my stress level down from feelings of inadequacy, to feeling useless or worse, feeling as if I wasted two perfectly good days, I try always to keep a backup plan. My backup plan for “rainy days” or “days when I feel blah” was to research my family tree. Yes, this was the next thing on my to-do list and had me spellbound.

As a young person, I was never interested in tracking my family tree. I assumed all of my great-greats and great-great-greats all came out of slavery and that was the end of that. Over the years I heard some of these people were actually Indians and there was talk of a great-great-great grandmother having Jewish ancestry. Really? Going on word-of-mouth, I assumed these folks knew what they were talking about and never questioned them. It is quite amazing what you find when you look at actual census reports.

Unfortunately, I have found data transcribed from handwritten census reports are prone to human error. I had to correct a lot of names these past couple of days because the handwritten text looked like one thing – which was right – but was transcribed as something else. I know the names of uncles and aunts but the person transcribing the handwritten text saw their names as something else. Call it human error.

Once I got past the many mistakes made from transcribing handwritten text, I discovered errors made by the living of the dead. Did Native Americans involve themselves with the census? If so, did they consider themselves White? I will need more research to know whether or not this is true. What I did find in the line of my maternal and paternal grandparents were lots-o-mulattos – or mulattoes, pick your poison.

According to the National Archives, the 1870 census schedule was the first to list “Indian” under color. However, “Indians” were counted in the census going back to 1860.

The first federal decennial census that clearly identifies any Native Americans is the 1860 census.* The instructions to the 1860 census enumerators defined who was to be counted and who was not:

Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated.**

*The instructions for the 1850 census, the first in which all members of the household are listed, did not provide for the enumeration of any Indians. There is at least one instance however, in which Indians were identified: Pueblo Indians are identified as “copper” in Taos County, New Mexico (Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, roll 469).

**Eighth Census, United States—1860. Instructions to U.S. Marshals, p. 14.

Source: The National Archives: Native Americans in the Census, 1860–1890

The phrase “Indians not taxed” means those Indians “living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country.” There were also “Half Breeds” (listed on the census as “HB”). These were mostly the product of white men and Indian women. When I was able to see an actual census document of a family member, the column for color clearly stated, “Black,” “White” or “Mulatto.” Nothing said Indian. The form of identification for my family members was “M” or “Mu” for Mulatto, no “I” or “HB”.

There are some cases in which the coding for persons of mixed heritage is “I” or “W” and, in rare cases, “Mu” (mulatto) or “B” (black).

Source: The National Archives: Native Americans in the Census, 1860–1890

The word “mulatto” gets interesting too as it does not necessarily mean the product of a white man and a black woman. The census also defined “mulatto” as the product of a union of a black and a mulatto. The child of any slave who had one white grandparent, whether by a white or black spouse, would be a mulatto. Very interesting and it took a lot of census digging to find that one.

For those born in slavery, it is common for them to have not known their fathers. When you read the narratives or oral histories of Frederick Douglas, Moses Roper and others, you will find some of these children (or mothers and their children) were either sold or otherwise removed from the plantation after the birth of a mixed-race child.

Considering the above, I ran into another piece of interesting information. While researching alternative sources for my Great-Great-Grandmother, I found an interesting link to “The Bowden Family Story”. Mary Bowden was an indentured servant of Austin Washington, brother of George Washington. The article states “Interracial marriage was illegal and mulatto children were to serve as indentured servants until the age of 31, when they were freed by Virginia law.”

The above is interesting because I can track my maternal Great-Great-Grandmother and Great-Great-Grandfather back easier than others in my family tree. Were they freedmen? Former indentured servants? I don’t know. As a side note, I was not able to track my Great-Great-Grandmother to the above-mentioned Bowden women.

I was able to track my paternal grandmother back to slavery through her father, listed as Mulatto in the 1870 census. At the time, my Great-Great-Grandfather was 10-years old living with a white family, the Rawlings. As for my paternal grandfather, I can only track him back to the age of 18 during the time of the 1880 census where he – the only one I might add – is listed as “Black.” At that time, he was living with a white farmer, John Deyer. Unfortunately, his wife Mattie, my Great-Great-Grandmother, threw me right back through the open door of mulatto. I could go further back with her than I could the only black identified member of my family for that time period.

The census reports got really interesting as time went on. Those in my family once identified as Mulatto were later identified as Black. Some went from Mulatto to White, right down to their death certificates. As I told a friend of mine this weekend, my family gets a little effed up as time goes by, which explains some of the dysfunctional behavior I personally witnessed as a child growing up. To this day I hate to hear people ask the question “was he (or she) light or dark?” I don’t answer such questions because I grew up hearing enough of that crap to last many lifetimes.

The reason why I wanted to research my family tree, particularly my mother’s side of the family, is because I had heard the many rumors of Indians and Jews. What I found were Mulattos. If there is any Indian or Jews they are not mentioned in the census report but that does not mean the handed down stories are not true. They may be but there is no historical data to prove it.

Even more interesting, my brother took a mitochondrial DNA test last year which showed his maternal genetic ancestry – my mother’s side of the family – shared ancestry with the Mende people in Sierra Leone today. Unfortunately, this test did not supply the standard identifiers (haplogroup) needed to plug into a database that would, at the very least, pinpoint the continent of Africa, if that is the case. Instead, this test only offers something called HVSI indicators (I guess) and goes through a lot of wordy text about hypothetical base pairs and variables that lead them to the Mende people of Africa.

Although very nice, this test is worthless as far as I’m concerned. It could be right on but, for the sake of my research, I need the data they admittedly withhold to instead pinpoint a region and a people. Again, it’s very nice with lots of snazzy graphics but they should have provided the haplogroup as well and perhaps I would have found the information more believable.

This project is ongoing and I will hold for another lazy, hazy, day of pain. Sans the strange test that links back to the Mende people of Sierra Leone, I have nothing else that links back to Africa. I do know everyone, so far, was either a slave or indentured servant. Since they were considered property, there is no direct information that links back to Africa or anywhere else.

The sad news about being the descendant of slaves is having no history. Like the Portuguese proverb I learned of many years ago, to destroy a people you take away their books, their language, their culture and their history and replace these with new books, a new language, a new culture and new history.

The search continues.

Tags:  Black, Geneaology, Mulattos, Negros, Slavery