Who is a Dark person in a record?

Who is a Dark person in a historical record? It is more than what you might be thinking.


I use the ever-changing research terms for the Black Race in the United States as I research. The most common terms are Negro, Black, Colored, and Mulatto. If you are doing Black research, you will want to use each word separately. Because Black may or may not bring up a record on a person listed as Negro or Mulatto, and Dark will bring up a mix of people, not all Black.


The research term Dark could be a Black, German, Dutch, or any nationality. The term Dark was used interchangeably with Race and Color. A person from Germany or Holland could be listed as Race Dark, the same as a Black person. The only difference is when you see the original record, the Color is Dark, and the Race is German, Holland, or Negro.



I am currently working on a research project for Dubuque, Iowa, where I am finding some unique terms I have not used until now. Each word has now been added to my search term list. Because there was another person on the page listed as Black, that is how I found Quadroon and Dark. The other archaic terms I found when looking up the definition of Quadroon and decided to see if they could also be found on an index or transcribed records.


I only found this word once so far in a Dubuque birth record. Maybe grandmother may have mentioned Quadroon and other outdated terms such as Octoroon to denote the amount of Black blood a person has. Since I had to look up the definition of Quadroon and came across other archaic words, I decided to share their meanings as well.


Quadroon: a person who is one-quarter Black by descent.

Octoroon: a person who is of one-eighth African descent and seven-eights European descent.

Mustee: a person of one-eighth Black ancestry: Octoroon

Griffe: 1. a person of three-quarter Black and one-quarter White ancestry. 2. a person of mixed Black and American Indian blood.

All the definitions are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, with the images coming from Ancestry.com. The only records found using Griffe are part of the African American Civil War Sailor Index, 1861-1865 on Ancestry.com. So you may have seen these records using the search term Black.


Dark. What is Dark? Is that even a Race? Well, it is, and it isn't in various records across the country. My original thought is the person doing transcriptions of the record got a line off and mixed up Color and Race when typing. However, there are records from Dubuque to Montana to California where the Race is listed as Dark.


You can find Dark, Quadroon, Octoroon, and Mustee in various records across the country and Iowa. The other day was my first time seeing Quadroon. Now I am wondering how many family records I might have missed because I was not thinking about all the words used to define a Black person during their times. It was my fault, you know what happens when you assume, and I did just that for way too many years.


As long as you keep learning, you are growing and improving your research skills.


Here is a list of research words to use when searching Blacks. I am sure I will find more to add to my list. Please share any research words you use that are not listed.

  • Black

  • Negro

  • Colored

  • Mulatto

  • African

  • Amer African (Note the order used in the 1800s.)

  • Quadroon

  • Octoroon

  • Mustee

  • Griffe

  • Dark

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