Thursday, December 12, 2013

Appreciating the Enumeration of Educable Children in Mississippi

Earlier, I had not noticed that Family Search had placed the Educable Children's Census online before. But it did catch my attention recently and I decided to look at this record set once again. I was not looking for any of my direct ancestors as I have used the list before and had not found any. But I did recall that I had found the children of one of my gr. gr. aunts, but with time, the document was either misfiled or buried in an older binder and yet to be easy to reach. So I decided to look at it again, and obtain the document.

The Educable Children's census was conducted in the state of Mississippi, and to my knowledge, is the only such recurring census of school students to be found. Other states don't have it. And within Mississippi, not all years have survived time, so there are many gaps in the collection of records to review. It is noted that some lists go back to the years before the Civil War, but of course of those that do remain, the years after the Civil War interest me the most, since formerly enslaved children are often found on those lists.

So I decided to simply browse the collection to see if I could find any of my ancestors from Tippah County, Mississippi. I know that the family at that time, lived in the town of Ripley, so I went to that portion of the 1878 volume and began to scan the many lists of names. The records do reveal the race of the chidren so I paid close attention to those pages that did indicated when the children were "colored."

Close up of page from Educable Children's List

Source: "Mississippi, Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892; 1908-1957," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 Dec 2013), Tippah > 1878 > image 60 of 135.

As I examined the names of the children listed from the town of Ripley, one name caught by attention--that of "Counsalle Martin". I knew that name!! My gr. grandmother Harriet Young, married a man called Council Martin, and I have him in other documents, where Council was written as "Counsalle", and also "Counsille". There were no others with a similar given name. This was my gr. grandfather on the list of educable children! I had never looked for him before because I knew that he was already an adult in the 1870s and 1880s. But here he was on the record!

Council Martin's name appears as "Counsalle" Martin

I looked at the list more closely and noticed, that of all of the children on the list, he was the oldest. In fact he was no child at all. Then I thought about it, here was a young man, beginning his life as a free man. He was now free to move, to travel, and to find his way in the world. And here he was only a few years on his own and he would make his life much better with additional skills, particularly if he knew how to read and write. And to find him as a young man of 20, on the list of educable children, alongside others much younger than he, I was so touched.  This was in 1878, and that meant that he was most likely born while his own mother was still enslaved. He would have been a very young boy when slavery ended. But he wanted to read, and wanted to write, and there with others so much younger, was the young man "Counsalle" on the list of educable "children. 

School was so important to those who were once enslaved, and even among those men who were in the Civil War, one constant personal goal of many was to learn how to read and write. It was clear when noting that many of the students were older children, ages 17 upward. Seeing their names on these lists spoke to their earnest desire to have the chance to make advances in their lives. They wanted nothing else but to learn, for that would open the doors to a stronger future, in the hostile south, where they lived.

Image from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 17, 1868

I had found some collateral relatives earlier, and on an earlier occasion, I recall that legibility was a problem with the microfilm and I had not visited the list since that time. But this time, since I had found "Counsalle" Martin, I wondered if I could find others in the family. 

I decided to really study the town of Ripley's educable children. I recognized many surnames, Pates, Boyds, Edgertons and Spights. I also recognized the names of some of the white families connected to the town--the Falkner children were there. These were the Falkner's connected to William Faulkner the writer. My gr. gr. grandmother Amanda was the personal cook to Willam Faulkner's father, often called "The Colonel". And there were the Murrys and others from Ripley as well. Would I find any others from my family? I was not so sure.

Then suddenly, three names jumped off the page! There was my gr. gr Aunt Violet, and Frank her sister! Frank's real name was Frances, but she was always called Frank and Aunt Frank---not Frankie, through the years. And there was also Eljah Barr, their younger brother!

We often think that we have exhausted a resource, because we have already looked at it. But for me, the lesson is to revisit that old resource, when months and years have passed since the last scrutiny of the record was made. Even those records familiar to us, can often bring out names that were missed, or overlooked.

The rest of the task, is also to study every available census year that remains to be studied. Although the family was said to have moved to Memphis in the early 20th century, to be certain, additional years still deserved to be examined. 

(Note---the Enumeration of Educable Children is also available on the website of the Mississippi Department of  Archives and History.)

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LindaRe said...

The educable children list is a wonderful resource especially if you are fortunate enough to find one for 1892, which is a good replacement for the 1890 Federal census.

M. Dawn said...

Wonderful story about men and women seeking to learn to read and write long after childhood, and a great reminder to return to our sources every so often to glean something new.

Unknown said...

Great article. It has been a while since I have been through that list for my family and it deserves another look through! Thank you. Also I never really focused on the years in between too much. I had been more prone to letting the records do the dictating but I see it is important to also look for records documenting that time or accounting for missing years. Thank you for talking about this. I feel enlightened.

Unknown said...

Thank you for an inspiring post. I'm going to take another look at the list of my relatives in Jackson, Miss.