Census Sunday- Tracking the Great Migration

As a tribute to Father’s Day, I decided to take a look at my paternal side. As a young girl and into adult life, this side of my family ancestry was always closed. My siblings and I barely knew of any southern connection. Although the information received was sketchy, I decided to go on a hunt.

Through the US Federal Census records, I discovered that this side of my family is a part of the first Great Migration (1910-1930) of African Americans that migrated from the Rural South to the Northeast. It is through the census records, that I can track my family, as they become a part of the statistics, of this Great Movement.

The 1900 US Census shows my great grandfather John Matthews, (wharf watchman) and his wife Amanda; both of South Carolina, This record provided the birth place of my great-grandparents. They are living together, with their six children all born in Georgia; at Chatham County, Savannah Georgia. as shown in the census below, beginning with line 87 and ending on line 94 with my grandfather Charlie Matthews, the youngest child.

1900 US Census
1900 US Census

My great-grandfather John Matthews (deceased) does not appear on the 1910 US Census. His wife Amanda is listed as a widow, head of household, living together with three of her children, in Chatham County, Savannah Georgia. As shown on the Census beginning with line 88 ending with 91 with my grandfather Charlie Matthews.

1910 US Census
1910 US Census

As I continue tracking the family movements leading up to their migration; I cannot find the whereabouts of my great-grandmother Amanda Matthews in the 1920 Census. Perhaps Amanda was out of the district when the census was being enumerated? Or was she already on the road, with other family members traveling north? The 1920 Census for that district reveals that Amanda’s youngest son my grandfather Charlie Matthews was still living in Chatham County, Savannah Georgia.

1920 US Census
1920 US Census

Eventually, family members left Savannah Georgia; seeking new opportunities during the years of 1921- 1922. I use this range of years, because the 1925 New York State census indicates that my grandfather’s children were all born in New York, beginning with the eldest child Henrietta ,being born in 1923.

Still, all in all, my entire paternal family head to the Northeast and settle in New York City; and become a part of the Mass Exodus that Isabel Wilkerson so eloquently describes in her book “The Warmth of Other Suns.

1925 NYS Census
1925 NYS Census

In 1928 my great-grandmother Amanda Allen Matthew died in New York and was buried at Flushing Cemetery Queens,NY.

Since that Great Migration, it would be over 85 years before a direct descendant would return to the South.


By shelley dewese

As I continue to search out my history, I am discovering how much I did not know. The more information disclosed about my ancestry, the more I learn and understand how I am the person that has evolved today. My family's research efforts have taken me on an enlightening journey back through the past in the U. S. Virgin Islands (formerly Danish West Indies) and Coastal Georgia. As with most people of Afro-Caribbean descent, my ancestry stems from peoples brought together by colonialism and conquest; it stems from people thrown together, albeit forcibly, by the throes of enslavement. As a result, my DNA tells me that my people originate in Africa, Europe, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Lesser Antilles, and Leeward Caribbean Islands. Two collections made my dream to research my ancestors in the Danish West Indies a reality. I have conducted extensive research using the St. Croix Population Database 1734-1917, a St. Croix African Roots Project product, and a research and document transcription effort sponsored by the Virgin Islands Social History Associates (VISHA). The other catalyst has been accessing the extensive photo, manuscript, and microfilm collections at the Library and Archives of the St. Croix Landmarks Society at Estate Whim in St. Croix. My heartfelt thanks go to all my cousins, extended "cousin-family," friends, and research colleagues from the St. Croix-based Virgin Islands Ancestry Discovery Group, for their input and collaboration. I also want to thank the UJima Genealogy Group in Coastal Georgia and GlynnGen.com; webmaster Amy Hendrick has introduced me to Southern History and its people. This site allows you to transform yourself to a time during the Danish period (1734-1917) when life was both complex and straightforward. If you have any questions, comments, or need assistance searching for a Danish West Indies ancestor, I invite you to drop me an email. Its.sheldew@gmail.com I especially appreciate the followers' encouragement.


  1. Now you know I absolutely LOVE an ancestor hunt — LOL! You’ve done an excellent job using census records to start and map out your search for your paternal great-grandfather & grandfather!

    Idea: Now that you have a general idea of your great-grandparents migration path north, you may want to use city directories (if available) to track their exact locations in and around Savannah, GA and to New York each year between those census decades!

    This is exciting stuff! I will be keeping a watchful eye out to learn more about this side of your family tree!


  2. Hi Shelly, this was fascinating reading – good job!  I was going to refer you to “The Warmth of Other Suns”, but I see you have already read it.  What an excellent documentary on the migration of our people from the south to parts north, east and west!  Love, Charlotte



    1. Hi Charlotte,
      What a lovely surprise! I hadnt read, barely heard, about this Great Migration until I was introduced to this book on CSPAN “Warmth of Other Suns” gave me a full understanding of this time in our history. Thank you for stopping by.


  3. This information is fascinating! Your diligence in pursuing this path to discover your Father’s history turns out to be a very rewarding endeavor. I am enamored of your presentation skills and perseverance in bringing this information to us. thank you.


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