Taking Your First Steps Around the 1870 “Brick Wall” in African American Research

For African Americans who were enslaved until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865, the 1870 census was the first federal census to name them. Since the slave schedules of the 1850 and 1860 censuses only referred to slaves by tick marks, sex, and age, connecting the people identified in 1870 to their pre-emancipation identities is a notoriously difficult challenge. It’s so difficult that relatively few researchers attempt it. But there are methods for moving past this brick wall.

The Atkins and Carter families were enumerated together in Butler Township, Edgefield County, South Carolina, in the 1870 census:

Joseph Atkins, 50, m, m, farm laborer, born in SC, cannot read or write
Violet Atkins, 45, f, b, keeping house, born in SC, cannot read or write
Emma Atkins, 12, f, b, farm laborer, born in SC, cannot read or write
Wade Atkins, 8, m, b, at home, born in SC, can read and write
Frances Carter, 40, f, m, farm laborer, born in SC, cannot read or write
Allen Carter, 15, m, m, farm laborer, born in SC, cannot read or write
William P. Carter, 13, m, m, farm laborer, born in SC, cannot read or write
Savannah Carter, 11, f, m, farm laborer, born in SC, cannot read or write
Church P. Carter, 9, m, m, at home, born in SC, can read and write[1]

The question that arose for an Atkins descendant was “How can I find out if the Carters listed in the Atkins household are related?” It’s a good question. While the 1870 census enumerated every household member, it did not articulate the relationship of each member to the head of household as the censuses for 1880 and later did. So how do we go about answering that question?

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  1. March 28, 2020 1:10 pm
  2. March 29, 2020 4:17 pm

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