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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
Beth's Weekly Moultrie Observer Column - Week 49
(This appears here courtesy of The Moultrie Observer)

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 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 and images.

For ordering information call 1-800-760-2455 or go to on the Internet. Write: PO Box 540670, North Salt Lake, UT 84054-0670.

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