I came across an interesting article when researching how to interpret a particular 1870 US census for Tennessee...

+15 votes
I was trying to interpret this census page:  


So I started to research the subject and came across this article, which I found to be interesting.  It includes instructions for the enumerator in regard to recording race.  

Am still not certain how to interpret this census.  But I thought those who are researching this time and place might find it useful.

in Genealogy Help by Mary Cole G2G6 Pilot (102k points)
edited by Liz Shifflett
The Ws and Ms in the data columns on that census sheet (and adjacent pages on that same film) are essentially indistinguishable. The Bs in that column are very clearly Bs, but it's awfully difficult to judge which letters are Ws and which are Ms. Can you compare the same people on the 1880 census to see how the classifications compare?

The illustration at the top of that article, showing the “Portugee”, entry corrected to “W” for white in Hawkins County, Tennessee, was almost certainly for a Melungeon person.
From what I can tell, this is the only census that records this family as anything other than "white".  Am having much difficulty with this family though.  Every other Family tree I see has this James Cole as my William Clay Cole's (Cole-11126) father.  Yet I am not convinced.

Thank you!

3 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer
Very interesting article, Mary.  But in reference to your initial dilemma, there are 40 individuals listed on the page, 22 males and 18 females.  In  the summary at the bottom of the page, it records 22 males and 18 femals all white, zero coloreds.  So, unless the mulattos were grouped with the whites rather than coloreds, which I regard as improbable, the "M"s are all actually misinterpreted "W"s.
by Bill Lacey G2G2 (2.4k points)
selected by Lindy Jones
Good observation!! It pays to read the whole page.
Spot on, Bill!!

I gave you "Best answer" although no question was actually asked.

Hope nobody minds!
Very good, Bill.  Thank you!
+6 votes
Hey thanks, Mary, I found that really interesting!
by Summer Orman G2G6 Mach 8 (85.9k points)
+3 votes
M in the census stands for Mulato not Melungeon tho there is a posslblty that the person was Melungeon.  I have an ancestor who in the census was listed one time as White, once as IND or indian and once as M for Mulatto.   Many families in the Appalachia area usually identify with being Portugese or other Mediterranian types ..even Jewish in order to not be "condemned" as a Black, Mulato, or Quadroon.
In this case if the enumerator wrote portugee for race, they would have been changed to W, rather than M for Mulato.

If you are looking at your own census and trying to decide, look at the people with them in the group and the net worth, land holdings ,jobs etc that it lists with them........ Also look at every one elses Race on the page and look at the handwriting for other names to get a sense of the enumerators handwriting. (see if you can see names like Matthew aor William to compare)   Generally that way you will get a feel for the enumerators handwriting and be able to see if the letter for race is a W or an M.    Also in the earliest census' they had a different schedule form for Colored  than the rest.
by Erinne Kennedy-Dock G2G6 (7.4k points)

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