March 13 marked the beginning of Deaf History Month 2015, which concludes on April 15. During this month, I will be listing tips and strategies for researching your deaf ancestors and relatives in historical records.
We've spent quite a bit of time looking at the three deaf siblings--John Fletcher Dickinson, Thomas Sherman Dickinson, and Harriet Ann (Dickinson) Root--of one of my 3rd-great-grandmother. We've found them in U.S Federal Census records, the special census on deaf family marriages, and Schools for the Deaf historical records.There are other major records groups that should be examined.
State and Local Censuses
Like the federal and special census records we have examined, many state and local censuses also listed whether citizens were deaf, blind, or had some other disability. In 2009, I composed a list of online state censuses for this blog, and have recently updated it. The post also contains links to some excellent reference books on state and local censuses, which cover many offline repositories for these record groups.
Oddly enough, my Dickinsons happened to reside in the one county in the Union in which a state census was taken for 10 years running: Cass County, Nebraska; 1876-1885 (there was also one taken in 1870 in that county). Below is one of many state census records I found for the Dickinson siblings, their spouses, and children. It shows John and Chloe "Dixon" in Rock Bluff in 1880. Interestingly, I have found that the column for "deaf and dumb" has more often been left blank than filled in for my Dickinson family members in these state census records.
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Many other countries held regular censuses, often decennially, like the United States. It was not unusual in those censuses to find columns in which to enumerate the deaf and other disabled individuals. Sharn White blogs about these columns and the information they contain in censuses from the United Kingdom. If your ancestors came from Canada or Australia, the census forms will be very similar to those of the U.K. These non-U.S. census records can be accessed through a World Deluxe subscription at Ancestry. For other nation's census records, especially those that can be found online, see Cyndi's List and search for the name of that country.
Although deaf men could not serve in the military, they were included in U.S. draft registrations, as these were an enumeration of every man in the country of a certain age, whether or not they were fit for service. Ancestry's Military Collection includes a Draft, Enlistment and Service category, which contains draft registrations for the Civil War, World I, and World War II. FamilySearch has federal draft registration records for WWI, WWII, and state draft registrations for Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana during WWII.
Unfortunately, entering the keyword "deaf" into the search engines does not produce a list of deaf draft registrants; instead, it can bring up individuals living in institutions for the deaf, or all registrants living in Deaf Smith, Texas! It is simply best to search for your ancestor or relative by name, and hope to find some interesting information on their registration card or ledger.
Below are D.F. Hogan and Augustus Hummell, an engineer and a baker, who resided at the Deaf and Dumb Institution in the Ninth Ward of New York City during the June 1863 Civil War Draft Registration, as found on Ancestry:
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Annual State Reports
While living in Sherman Township, Newaygo County, Michigan, John and his wife Chloe were both named, along with a number of other deaf individuals, in the Joint Documents of the State of Michigan for the year 1873 (Vol. 3) published by the Michigan Legislature. Note under the "mental competency" category, both are labeled as "bright." Running your ancestor's name through a Google search or at online digital book sites may uncover some surprising details about his or her life.
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Because of the nature of deafness, people with this disability were not as physically or financially vulnerable as those who were blind, crippled, or mentally disabled. Most could provide a living for themselves and their dependents. However, it is always possible that a deaf person could have ended up becoming indigent or otherwise dependent upon the community for their survival. Check local poor farm, poor house, and work house records, especially if your ancestor "disappears" from regular records. The Poorhouse Story has a wealth of information on these institutions.
Your ancestors; local newspapers may contain numerous articles about their lives, including biographical articles; news about illnesses or accidents that may have been the cause of deafness;, graduation announcements from schools for the deaf; birth, marriage, or death announcements and obituaries, to name a few. Check out my Online Historical Newspapers site to locate digitized newspapers online
If your ancestor was an urban dweller, tracking him through the annual city directories can be helpful to provide a timeline of his life and occupation(s). Even if he lived in a rural area, county, farm, and rural directories were common as well. Don't forget church and fraternal society directories, too! Check out my Online Historic Directories site to locate digitized and transcribed historical directories online.
Next week, we will wrap up Deaf History Month with a final list of resources and links.
Other posts on this topic:
Tuesday's Tip: Researching Your Deaf Ancestors in U.S Federal Censuses
Tuesday's Tip: Using the U.S. Special Census on Deaf Family Marriages and Hearing Relatives, 1888-1895
Tuesday's Tip: Finding Deaf Ancestors and Relatives in Schools for the Deaf Historical Records
Thursday's Tip: Resource Wrap Up for Researching Your Deaf Ancestors and Relatives