Throwback Thursday: Terminology Used in African American Research

Rebecca, Charley, and Rosa, slave children from New Orleans. c. 1864. Charles Paxon. Source: Library of Congress

While browsing through old issues of the Baobab Tree, I came across a great list of terms that are often used in genealogy research, especially with regard to African Americans.  Racial designations have changed a lot over time, so most of these are completely out of use.  On the other hand, learning them can be critical when researching especially before 1865.

Terminology Unique to African American Research
While on you research quest don’t be surprised to encounter terminology not common to other genealogical research.

  • Manumission Records – Formal papers stating the freedom of a slave.
  • Freeman’s Bureau – An organization established by the Federal Government before the end of the Civil War, for the purpose of assisting newly emancipated slaves to adjust to freedom.
  • Griot – An African family historian. Each family had one, who committed the family’s history to memory. In preparation for death, the Griot would pass his historical stories to a younger man, who would become the next Griot.

Racial Designations Unique to African American Research

  • Miscegenation – The mixing of races
  • Mulatto – offspring of black and white parents
  • Quadroon – offspring of Mulatto and white parents.
  • Octoroon – offspring of Quadroon and white parents
  • Cascos – offspring of Mulatto and Mulatto parents
  • Sambo – offspring of Mulatto and black parents
  • Mango – offspring of Sambo and black parents
  • Mustifee – offspring of Octoroon and white parents
  • Mustifino – offspring of Mustifee and white parents

Common Genealogical Definitions

  • Archives – reference to the storage of older records *Can be held nationally, at the state level, or locally*
  • Artificer -  soldier mechanic who does repairs
  • Ascendant – ancestor
  • Assignee – the person to whom a privilege or some property is signed over to by the court
  • Assignor – the person who signs over a right or property to another
  • Assistant Marshall – the census taker prior to 1880
  • Banns – publication or posting of the announcement of a coming marriage. A period of time before the actual marriage to allow advance notice to those that might have reason to protest.
  • Baptizavi – I baptized
  • Bequest – legacy: usually a gill of real estate by will
  • Bond – a written promise by a borrower to pay a lender a fixed dollar sum of interest for a prescribed period of time and to repay the principal on a stated date
  • Boniface – innkeeper
  •  Borough – a self-governing incorporated town, larger than a village
  • Bounty Land – public land given by the government to induce young men to join the military
  • Brother – a male sibling. Can also be used to show close friendship
  • Bundling – to sleep in the same bed while fully clothed, a practice commonly by engaged couples in early New England
  • Slave Schedules – records taken by the U.S. Census verifying the existence of slaveholders and number of slaves owned.
  • Plaçage/Left Handed Marriagesextralegal system in which white French and Spanish and later Creole men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of African, Indian and white (European) Creole descent.

Original Source: PRODIGY – Web Browser: Genealogy Dictionary – http://www.electriciti.coml-dotts/diction.html (link no longer active). Published in the Quarterly Newsletter of the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society of Northern California (now AAGSNC), September 1996, pages 2-3.

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