Virgnia: Black or Indian?

Some Virginia researchers may already be aware of this, but for others this information may explain some difficulties as you research vital records of Native Americans and African Americans in that state.

Walter Ashby Plecker was the first head of the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics and served from 1912-1946. He did some beneficial things such as “great strides in educating midwives, inventing a home incubator, and prescribing home remedies for infants. His efforts are credited with an almost 50 percent decline in birthing deaths for black mothers.”

Unfortunately, he also believed that American Indians and African Americans had no separate ethnic identity and set about to reclassify Indians as colored. He actually changed the designation on some vital records from Indian to black. He also decided that anyone with even a little bit of black ancestry would not be allowed to pass as white and brought about changes on their vital records based on information that he said his office had gathered.You can read more about Walter Plecker at the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory project. That page lists some article for further reading. Also check out this link for a disturbing 1942 letter from Plecker to local vital records registrars.

Thanks to Brenda Hudson of Florida for telling me about this during last week’s NGS Conference. It does affect some researchers trying to do a good job of researching and documenting their forebears.

© 2010 – 2014, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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