It is hard to set out families prior to the 1880 census with certainty. The 1850, 1860 and 1870 federal census list household members by name but do not include relationships. Inferences can be made when the male head of the household and the next named female are of reasonable ages to be parents of the younger named children. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s not. Some enumerators listed the nuclear family first, then other relatives and lastly unrelated lodgers, boarders or servants. Other enumerators listed everyone by age, and yet others listed all the males by age and then all the females. Some enumerators used initials instead of given names because it took less time. Mistakes were made, either asking the questions, telling the answers, writing the information and/or copying it all over again later.
In general, African-American families have the added hardship of being identifiable in only one census prior to the 1880 census, not three. The slave schedules of 1850 and 1860 generally did not include any names. Every once in while the enumerator used names, just like other enumerators included whole birth dates in the 1900 instead of month and year. That’s a lucky mistake. Some enumerators kept family groups together, while others started with the males in descending order by age and then listed the females the same way. The 1870 census, the first one in which freed slaves are named, doesn’t identify relationships, but it does list all household members.
The Library of Virginia, within its Virginia Memories project, in addition to the wonderful set of county Chancery records, has filmed, digitized, transcribed and made available for research the Cohabitation Registers. Wow! These Virginia “common-law slave marriage” records from 1866 have been microfilmed for some time. To have the registers filmed, online and transcribed, so you can read the originals side-by-side with someone’s interpretation or transcription, is tremendous, and a true advantage of the extra large computer screens.
- name of the husband
- his age
- his place of birth
- his residence
- his occupation
- his last owner
- his last owner’s residence
- name of wife
- her age
- her place of birth
- her residence
- her last owner
- her last owner’s residence
- name of children with age of each
- the date of commencement of cohabition
The actual Caroline Co. Register is 24 handwritten pages, one line per family. Other counties available at this time, Augusta, Buckingham, Culpepper, Floyd, Fluvanna, Goochland, Hanover, Lunenburg, Montgomery, Prince Edward, Richmond, Roanoke, Scott, Smythe, Surry, Warrne, Washington, and Wythe.
Moses Lonesome his wife Rachel (Taylor) Lonesome and their children, William, Juda, George, Catherine, Warner, Frank, Marie, Polonias and Hallie are on this first page of the Caroline Co. register.
A close up of the same page:
This closeup shows the clerk ran out of room listing the children and had to write above the line with the rest of the family members. This clerking issue left Catherine Lonesome without an age. So you find Moses Lonesome, his wife Rachel Taylor and their children, William 22, Judy 19, George 16, Cath, Warner 9, Frank 7, Maria 5, Polonias 3, and Holly 1. A probable familial connection, Joseph Lonesome is found in this register with his wife Lucy Banks and their children, Jenny 11, Edmund 9, Wash’n 7, Nelson 4, and Maria 6 months. Excitingly, if you descend from Lucy and Joseph, her parents are listed too.
Caroline Co. also has an extant register for those children whose parents ceased to live together but whom the father recognizes. This register is entitled, Caroline County (Va.) Register of Children of Colored Persons whose Parents had ceased to cohabit which the Father recognizes to be his, 1866 Feb. 27. Other counties with this register available from the Library of Virginia are Augusta, Buckingham, Culpepper, Fluvanna, Prince Edward, Richmond, Roanoke, and Wythe. NARA, the National Archives, has some registers for Grayson, Louisa, Montgomery, Nelson, Rockbridge and York listed under Freedmen’s Cohabitation Register or Register of Colored Population, 1865. According to FamilySearch.org there are also registers of Alexandria, Amelia, Henry, Lynchburg City, New Kent, Princess Anne, Rappahonnock, and Surry. More may show up in other counties or indenpendent cities. Keep researching.
These registers, along with the 1870 federal population census and the 1860 federal slave schedules, can be used to recreate entire plantation communities when the landowner and slave owner records are not available. I recommend using the originals and transcriptions simultaneously so you can contrast and compare all potential connections. In this case, the combined Caroline Co. Registers provide potential birth surnames of Rachel (Taylor) Lonesome, Lucy (Banks) Lonesome and Maria (Lonesome) Richarson for Lonesome family members in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and District of Columbia.
(Mocavo, are you indexing these cohabitation registers?)