Leviny Jackson’s death was a “most horrid and brutal affair.”
Leviny was a black woman who was pregnant by a white man. She “expressed her determination to swear the child to him on its birth. He consequently waylaid her and performed the horrid deed by shooting her in several places and severing her head from her body with a knife.”
This black woman, probably a former slave, died in August 1869 in Hall County, Ga., long before the state required death certificates. So what is the source of the gruesome details about her murder?
Surprisingly, they appear in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule.
Mortality schedules were taken for all states during the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses. They also were taken in 1885 in the states of Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, and North and South Dakota. Of course, not all of these records survived, but most have.
Persons enumerated in these special census schedules are those who died between June 1 for the year prior to the census through May 31 of the census year (1850,1860, 1870 and 1880). Leviny’s 1870 census entry states she died in August, and this would have fallen in the previous year of 1869.
The schedules list a person’s age, sex, color, marital status, birthplace, occupation, whether the mother and father were foreign born, and cause of death. Leviny was a black female, born in Georgia and working as a house servant when she died. Her cause of death was entered as “murder.”
The census taker placed an asterisk by “murder” and at the bottom of the page wrote the details of her demise. This enumerator was following official directions on how to do his job; he was supposed to add any details of deaths by accident or violence.
But who told the census taker how this woman died and how reliable is the information? Theoretically, the enumerator was supposed to get his information from the head of the household in which she was living at the time of her death. The census instructions read that the marshal “shall make the enumeration by actual inquiry at every dwelling-house, or by personal inquiry of the head of every family, and not otherwise.”
Of course, we have no way of knowing whether each enumerator spoke to the head of the household or someone else in the household, possibly including servants.
Each enumerator assigned a household and family number to each entry he made in his portion of the 1870 population schedule. When he recorded the information for the mortality schedule, he also entered the family number from the population schedule. In Leviny’s instance, the entry shows she was connected to household number 1385 on the Hall County population census.
By going to the population schedule and locating that family number, I found Henry W. Blake, a 52-year-old white male living with a white female (probably his wife or daughter) and two servants. The mortality schedule shows that Leviny was a “house servant,” so it can reasonably be surmised that Leviny was Blake’s servant.
Census mortality schedules certainly won’t provide dates of death for all our ancestors, but where and when they do exist, they are valuable substitutes for official death records. Items found in the mortality schedules require additional research.
For example, who was the white man who allegedly impregnated and probably killed Leviny? Since the murder was such a morbid one, it likely caught the interest of the local newspapers. Locating papers for that time frame might reveal the murderer’s identity and give more details of what led to the crime.
Another follow-up would be to explore Hall County court records for that time frame to see whether a man was tried and arrested for the murder. Researching court records, which often are not indexed, is time consuming, but the rewards usually are worth the effort.
The mortality schedules all have been digitized and indexed at Ancestry, www.ancestory.com.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogical methodology questions and event announcements to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She regrets she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching individuals. Past Heritage Hunting columns are available online at tbo.com, search words “Sharon Tate Moody.