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Winter 2002
A Publication of the St. Louis Public Library

Vol. 2   No. 1


Help!! is a feature in which we attempt to solve our readers' research questions. We will attempt to solve the problems with research materials available at St. Louis Public Library. We also invite our readers to contribute solutions to questions featured in this section. Send your problems and solutions to Gateway Family Historian, St. Louis Public Library, History & Genealogy Department, 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63103. You can also e-mail us questions at Put GFH-HELP!! in the subject line.


Question: While researching my family, I have found records listing their race as white, mulatto, and even black. What is the difference and which should I believe?

Answer: There may be a variety of factors at work. In many cases, a census taker or county clerk would record a person’s race on official documents based on the person’s appearance or the recorder’s knowledge of the person’s family or background rather than on the person’s response to a question. In addition, African-American and Native-American people would sometimes say that they were white if their skin and hair gave them that appearance. Doing so gave them greater access to jobs, housing, and education. The Hemings family is the most famous example of this. As for which you should believe, that depends on what you have already learned about the family and on your personal feelings about the question of race.

Question: I tried to get my father’s census record from the 1940 Census and was told that it wasn’t available. Why is that?

Answer: Census records are closed to the public for 72 years after the census is taken. This is done to protect personal privacy. When needed to provide proof of birth, an individual can request ONLY his or her census information. After 72 years, many of the people who responded to a particular census are deceased, so privacy is no longer a concern for most persons. The 1930 Federal Census is scheduled for release in April 2002.

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