Monday, November 26, 2007


The first time I was in the Federal Census, I was an infant, just born a few months before it was taken. I suppose one of my parents filled out the form. We were the only three living in the house.

Ten years later, I learned all about the Census in school and was so excited to help with filling out the Census form. I was in elementary school in another state, and was just about to graduate and go to sixth grade.

The next time the Census caught up with me, I responded twice. Even though I sent a form, the Census taker came to my home because my form was lost or something. By that time, I was living on my own in college, an entire state away from my parents. My profession was listed as "student."

Next time, I won't be carrying my maiden name anymore, and I'll be listed with my husband and perhaps even a child or two, with an actual profession by my name.

What blows my mind is that one day after I'm probably buried, some curious person will probably look my record up with some technology I wouldn't even recognize, just to see who they might find. That is so crazy to me! But not as crazy as it may have seemed before last night, when I did the exact same thing.

I've been looking through the Census records to see who I might find, with a laptop computer these former slaves wouldn't even recognize. Thankfully for me, the Bermuda district of Chesterfield County, Virginia kept faithful and legible records, even of the Colored population. I used digital photos of records and obituaries my Grandma has, as well of notes I've taken of her own recollections, and I went hunting for my old folks in the Census. Last night I found out my great-grandmother was the first in her immediate family to read and write. I found out the names of ancestors who were likely born enslaved and were emancipated as young people. I come from farmers, laborers, and railroad men, and possibly, a mulatto shoemaker. My next step after getting census records is to visit the Library of Virginia and the Chesterfield County Courthouse to hunt for birth, marriage, and death certificates, and deeds (since my family has sold off, but still holds some land which I can identify). I may also look for Freedman's Bureau, military, and Indian records.

I've been wanting to do this for years, but I was inspired by finding a certified copy of my great-grandfather's birth certificate and his marriage license at my Grandma's. No time like the present. I hope to discover much more. This is just the maternal side of my dad's family. I haven't even really gotten into his dad's side, or my mom's family, yet.

All I know is that I'm glad that when the Census taker came in 1880 and 1910 and 1930 and the decades between, somebody was at home and willing to talk. It was so amazing to see those names I've known and repeated for years pop off the page.