The Dark Side of History – A Response to The Legal Genealogist


In her blog article entitled “The Dark Side[i],” the Judy Russell shows examples from the Mississippi Department of Education List of Educable Children of not only apparent, but blatant racism in the 1927 lists.

She starts out showing an entry in the list where race is listed as “Coloured[ii].” This is followed by a few others that show the children’s race as “Darkies[iii],” “Dark Blotches[iv],” and finally “Black Niggers[v].”

She expressed that these records made her “skin crawl.”  Similar reactions were expressed by others leaving comments on the page.

While I do understand the abhorrence exhibited by Ms. Russell and the commentators, we, as genealogists and historians, must remember that this is nothing more than a glimpse at an exact moment in time into the thoughts, ideas, philosophies, and morals of one person completing a form 89 years ago.  Granted, this was probably more the norm for the time, but the record is only indicative of the one person completing it.

Maybe I am better able to separate my emotions from what I am researching, and I do a lot of research into African-American genealogies due to a long-term project I am working on, but I am not moved to disgust in reading these entries.  If these were used today, that would be an entirely different matter, but we are trained and taught as genealogists to report EXACTLY the information that is given without regard to spelling, punctuation, bad grammar, or even distasteful terms.

When I was younger I read Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Of Mice and Men, and I was fascinated with the stories of Uncle Remus’ Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear.  Even though I was raised in the backwoods of Arkansas, I did not see these as being racist, but depicting a story representative of the time period it was written in.

Now, with all that being said, I am not an apologist for anything my forefathers may have said or done since, once again, that is history and not current practices by myself.  But in doing African-American genealogy I find many references to them as colored, black, and negro.  Even in documents and letters written by them they refer to themselves as such.  In a lecture I give where I reference a local individual, who was, by those that knew him and who I interviewed, was a very respectable and honourable man, and was liked by the whole city, both black and white, but everybody, including the blacks of the time, referred to him as “Nigger Jim.”

I have to admit that I feel rather uncomfortable saying his nickname when giving the lecture, but by refusing to use it I am reconstructing the history I swore to present in an accurate picture.

Yes, history and genealogy is not always pretty.  It is not always full of European royalty and Indian princesses, but by ignoring, reconstructing, or simply editing it, we are not being a true genealogist nor historian of the facts.

To borrow a phrase from Stan Freberg’s song, St. George and the Dragonet, “Just the facts, ma’am.” This is all we should present without worry of being politically correct.


[i] Judy G. Russell, “The Dark Side,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 11 Mar 2016 ( : accessed 11 Mar 2016).

[ii] Ibid., citing Lauderdale County, Mississippi, List of Educable Children, Meehan Junction (1927), Tallanatta West School District, p. 578; digital images, “Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892; 1908-1957,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 Mar 2016).

[iii] Ibid., Triplett School District, p. 584.

[iv] Ibid., Triplett School District, p. 585.

[v] Ibid., Tunnell School District, p. 586.