Is Caucasian a term we should use in genealogy?

+3 votes
222 views

The term Caucasian will be found in many historical records/documents. but given the history of its origin and use, should we avoid use of the term ourselves in what we write?   This article explains .  The term Caucasian.

edit: Corrected my misspelling of Caucasian.

in Policy and Style by Jim Pitts G2G1 (1.3k points)
edited by Jim Pitts
Surely we should only use it if we can spell it correctly: caucasian.
Jim, did you find the use of the term in a profile here at Wikitree or is this post more rhetorical in question?

Nah, Ros, if the meaning came across, which it did, the spelling isn't all that relevant ... the article he refers to uses that spelling 

Spelling not relevant ... in a G2G question, sure. But spelling matters when it is what you are putting on a Wikitree profile and leaving there indefinitely -- and that is what the OP was about.

The OP seems to have confused the message of the article when writing this post.  The article advocates for discontinuing contemporary use of the word and eliminating it from government documents.  The article does not suggest that we should remove the world Caucasian from past historic documents.

We need to acknowledge that the word “Caucasian” is still around and that its continued use is problematic. We should use terms that are more accurate, such as “European-American.” Doing so would at least be consistent with the use of descriptive terms like “African-American,” “Mexican-American,” and others that signify both a geographical and an American ancestry.

Jack's answer well describes how the use of the ethnic description Caucasian should be addressed in a genealogical sense: 

For genealogy purposes, the rule, "use their term" not only promotes historical accuracy, but reduces the area where we can get into arguments about whose personal preference is best!

How strange! That's two people (at least) who have read the article - that's 'Caucasian' seventeen times - and still spell it 'Caucasion'.  And yes, @Susan, I think that correct spelling does matter; it's like good manners, or table etiquette.  It also helps those of us who have OCD and are proofreaders. :)

I wasn't suggesting we follow any advice given in the article.  I just thought she made good points about the terms origin and was wondering what the general consensus of this group was about modern usage of the term. (with any spelling).  My take is that it should be kept in historical documents but not used in new writings.  I have no specific example to give.
Yes, it should be spelled correctly when used and I am embarrassed that I did not pick up on the misspelling.
Nothing wrong with the word, no matter what some article says.

Thanks for the clarification Jim.

And no worries on the spelling, I spelled it wrong twice myself! wink

2 Answers

+10 votes
When would you use it?  When it comes out to filling out forms where ethnicity is requested, I personally prefer "Caucasian" to "White";  paper is white, not my complexion!  (Although I certainly can't trace my ancestry back to the Caucasus.)  In modern times, ethnicity or race ought to be largely irrelevent, anyway.

For genealogy purposes, the rule, "use their term" not only promotes historical accuracy, but reduces the area where we can get into arguments about whose personal preference is best!.

So if you're including US Census information and the person's entry says she is "white", then that is what it says, like it or not.  You don't change it to Caucasian, because it doesn't say Caucasian.  

Racial designators annoy me and I've tended to leave "white" out in reporting that census data.  But lately I've realized that African-Americans seeking to trace their ancestors have an immense challenge, and leaving out the racial designators in census reporting can make their job even harder.  So I'm re-thinking that.
by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (364k points)

Somehow I missed the link to an article in the original question.  But it's an important article, so I'll link it again!  I had never investigated the origins of the word "Caucasian" and was under the impression it reflected some kind of actual scientific research as to where European peoples originated.  I imagined light skin was perhaps a mutation from the original dark skins humans began with, perhaps one that could survive in caves during the Ice Age away from the more harmful rays of the sun.

The article gives the true racist origins of the term "Caucasian."  I will probably never use it again.  If I had to use it because I was quoting some historical document, I might add a comment that the writer of the article was using, wittingly, or unwittingly, a racist designation.   But I can't imagine it ever would have been appropriate to use it on WikiTree, anyway!

I wish you would write your comment as a second answer. The word Caucasian is part of an historic but  now known to be unscientific racist  hierachy. If it is used in a transcript  from an historic record then that would be valid. Using it  otherwise, to describe an individual either today or in the past would, in my opinion,  be wrong.
+2 votes
Jim,you understand the term "Caucasian" includes not only the "so-called whites" as listed in the census reports,but all so the very dark skinned people from South India with straight hair.  Their complexions are actually black or brown.  So what good are any of these terms?
by David Hughey G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
Yes David, I am aware of that now, after reading the article I referenced. I must admit however, that I have spent a bunch of years thinking "caucasian" was a synonym for "white".  I thought the article's suggestion of "European American" or "Euro-American" was worth pondering. It does not refer to race but origins.  I am not promoting any given term, but only asking for the guidance of the group.

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