The Race is On
It's a very exciting time for genealogists, who hold the U.S. Federal Census in high regard. The U.S. government is preparing for the massive task of counting its citizens. Before they can count, however, they need to ensure the form is asking for the appropriate information. There is a debate going on as to what terminology to use for identifying race and ethnicity, mainly for the African American population of the United States. See the link below for more detailed information.
2010 U.S. Census Debate
1820 was the first census year that asked information specific to non-white persons living in the home. The previous years' forms asked for number of slaves, but did not request information about demographics of the slaves. The 1820 census form asked for information on the ages of slaves held for both males and females, and asked for ages of free colored-persons living in the home.
The 1850 U.S. Census eliminated questions about slaves all together, making sense given the historical era. It did, however, ask about the color of the residents, as did the 1860 Census. Both of these Census years asked for racial demographic information in terms of White, Black, or Mulatto. The 1870 Census added Chinese and Indian to the demographic. The mostly-missing 1890 Census added some interesting terms to the question of race: Quadroon (3 white grandparents, one black grandparent) and Octoroon (7 white great-grandparents and one 100% black great-grandparent). The 1890 Census also added Japanese to the questionnaire.
The U.S. Federal Census forms from 1900-1930 simply asked for "Color" or "Race". I find the evolution of language to be fascinating, but I'm also a bit perplexed: It is January 25th, 2010 and they are just now battling with terminology?