Imagine taking a standard U.S. census form, translating it into Spanish, administering it to a newly-American population whose racial identity is highly politicized, translating the results back into English and trying to make sense of them 100 years later.
That’s what happens when you’re looking at 1910 census in Puerto Rico.
I stumbled on this story when my dad, a FamilySearch indexer, called my attention to a current project to index previously-missed parts of the 1910 census. A lot of the missing data was for Puerto Rico. The forms are in Spanish. My dad asked my help translating some of what he was reading, since I speak some Spanish. He was concerned that the computer was interpreting some of the abbreviations in English when they were likely Spanish abbreviations. I looked into it and what I found reminded me of these lessons:
From “The US Census and the Contested Rules of Racial Classification in Early Twentieth-Century Puerto Rico,” by Mara Loveman, in Caribbean Studies, 35:2 (July-Dec 2007), 3-36. Click image to go to the paper.
Always read the record itself and seek to understand it. Don’t just rely on the index! The published images of this census on Ancestry interpret “B” in the race column as “Black,” but a little research (thank you, Google Scholar!) reveals that the census takers entered the race in Spanish–so “B” was for “blanco” (read about it in this academic paper).
When you see someone’s race change over the course of a lifetime, consider the historical context. Puerto Rican census data from the early 1900s “show a population becoming significantly whiter from one census to the next” because of “changes in how race was classified on census returns,” says the same paper. Not only were there changes in the official instructions, but the enumerators increasingly didn’t follow them. In fact, on several thousand census entries in 1910 and even more in 1920, “individuals’ racial classifications were manually crossed out, and a different ‘race’ was written in. These post-enumeration edits, it turns out, were done by a select group of Puerto Ricans hired to supervise and ‘correct’ the work of fellow Puerto Rican enumerators.”
This little historical trivia is not so trivial if you’re wondering why your ancestor may be identified by a different race than you expected. Learn more about finding academic papers like the one quoted here in The Genealogist’s Google Toolboxby Lisa Louise Cooke. Her book shows you how to search Google Scholar for gems like this that make your family history more clear!
It’s time for a new season of Who Do You Think You Are? here in the U.S. Episode one features comedian and actress Aisha Tyler (Archer, GhostWhisper.)
According to TLC, Aisha “tracks down her 2x great-grandfather, whose story had been lost over generations, and uncovers an astonishing tale of a prominent ancestor whose struggle to keep his illegitimate son a secret made headlines.”
The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? premieres Sunday, April 3 at 9/8c
The contributors featured in the upcoming season include:
Scott Foley finds a relative who risked his life for one of America’s founding fathers, and an ancestor who suffered unspeakably during one of this nation’s darkest times.
Lea Michele nails down where her mysterious paternal ancestors came from, and learns of the dire economic circumstances they endured while trying to emigrate to the U.S.
Chris Noth learns his ancestors suffered during one of the greatest catastrophes in American history, and a relative who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of all time.
Molly Ringwald explores family lore of Swedish royalty which uncovers her ancestors’ harrowing lives and a brave woman who forever changed her family’s fate.
Katey Sagal is shocked to learn of her family’s Amish roots, and digs deeper as she realizes the level of dedication to their faith.
Famicity: a new free platform that allows families to gather, record and share their stories. Now in English and French.
One of the things I love about RootsTech is meeting innovators who are passionate about creating new ways to discover, preserve and share family history. While I was there I met Guillaume Languereau, CEO and co-founder of Famicity. I was impressed with his enthusiasm and dedication to his company and thought I’d share it with you.
What is Famicity?
Famicity is a free platform that helps families curate and share their pictures, videos and memories “so future generations remember who they are and where they come from,” says Guillaume. “The goal is to create a living family tree where the whole family will collaborate and share to preserve the story of each and every person.”
“It’s a legacy center,” Guillaume says, meant not just for distant family history but for recording the history that’s unfolding now. In fact, he says, “the users who share the most are young mothers with a newborn baby.”
Famicity appears to work similarly to family trees on many genealogy websites, with emphasis on family social networking and privacy. No paid subscriptions are required; relatives can be invited by email. You can build a tree from scratch or by importing a GEDCOM file. Each person in the family has a profile, with his or her information organized in timeline format. The design is meant to serve the needs of old and young. “A child just has to click on a person to discover the story of his/her life. It has never been easier to tell every family member’s story.”
The service was developed in France over the course of 5 years. It launched there and now has 150,000 users who have documented more than 3 million ancestors. Its success brought Guillaume to RootsTech 2016 to launch Famicity in English.
Famicity is a free service available on PC, MAC, tablets, and mobiles. Here’s a video teaser:
I do remind everyone, when they upload and share family history pictures, video, stories and other precious “digital artifacts,” to keep and back up their own master copies of them on their own computers. I love seeing relatives share and collaborate online–and I also love knowing they’ve secured and backed up their master files within their own reach. I use Backblaze which you can learn more about here.
A determined graduate student found some chilling historical video footage of a ship that capsized in Chicago. It was in an online archive–but he still had to dig deep for it!
Recently Gems fan Kathy sent us a story about an amazing video footage find. The subject line of her email caught my eye: “Gems can’t always be found by ‘panning:’ sometimes we have to ‘dig!'” She went on to say:
“You’re always stressing the importance of looking in the less obvious places but this is one of the best examples. Attached is an article about a horrific tragedy that happened in Chicago 100 years ago….It explains how video footage [about this disaster] was found in a British online newsreel–but it was not referenced under “Eastland,” the name of the ship, or “Chicago,” the location. We all like the easy way of finding things but finding gems sometimes takes digging and you just can’t pan for it.” (Click here to see the footage, though it may not be something everyone wants to watch.)
Thank you, Kathy! I often encourage people to dig for historical video footage (see Resources, below). Old footage shows us the past so compellingly! Also, did you notice that the video for a Chicago disaster was found in a British archive?? Not even the same country! Not too long ago, we blogged about how the media often picks up out-of-town stories. We may discover coverage about our relatives in newspapers and newsreels far from their homes. Just a tip to help YOU find more gems.