In the 1774 Rhode Island census, I was so pleased to see the column for Indians. I was methodically working through each city in each county extracting Indian families and families with Indians living with them when I came across two entries that made my eyes tear up.
“413 Various Indians” and “Indian family.”
What? I thought there was a special column for Indians and they were all listed by name? Yep, most families are, but in Charleston, Washington Co., Rhode Island, the census taker got tired of writing, so after recording several Indian families, he just wrote “413 various Indians.” A census taker in another jurisdiction wrote “Indian Family” for 7 people. He could have written their name with no more effort although maybe they had not adopted a European name or names and he didn’t know what else to do. So maybe that one can be excused, but 413 various Indians cannot.
If these various families had on the average 5 members each, we have just missed the names of 82 families that we could have recovered from the mists of time. Someone’s ancestors waiting to find them. But we won’t, we can’t and we never will….because the census taker looked around, saw a whole lot of Indian homes and decided that they were just “various indians” and not worth recording. And besides, who would care? Apparently, at the time, he was right, because no one made him go back out there and count the Indians.
Is is politically correct to be angry with someone 238 years after they did what they did? Well, PC or not, I’m angry. I’m disappointed, so disappointed because our opportunity to resurrect these invisible marginalized people has been taken from us.
You know, I used to tell my kids, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Maybe the census taker should have listened to his mother.