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 that is disclosed about my ancestry, the more I learn and understand how I am the person that has evolved today. As a native New Yorker, with roots in Coastal Georgia and deep roots in the Danish West Indies, now the Virgin Islands of the United States or commonly referred to as the United States Virgin Islands, I have always had a yearning to return to my maternal homeland. In September of 1976, my family and I relocated back to St. Croix. While living in New York, I was always telling my friends about my trip back home, but here I was actually waking up every day, walking among the streets and people that I have identified myself with all of my life. At the time, I was not involved in any genealogical work, but I knew there was a missing link that became completed after I was offered the opportunity to transfer Danish documents into a database. That opened up my world and I realize that this was my niche. I now had the tools to explore and document my ancestry. Growing up, my mother always impressed upon her children the pride in being a “Bough”, which was her surname. Now I was able to track where that pride came from, through participating in family history projects and meeting new family, as we gathered together for the Bough Family Reunion on St. Croix in July of 2012. As I continued to research, I found my passion extending to photography. Sunsets and street art are my favorite features, as shown in my tumblr blog http://minkyadoo.tumblr.com/ I also began blogging, and found that it has help me to improve my writing skills. Through the comments and well wishes, I have been encouraged to continue to write the stories and events of my life. Whether or not your roots trace back to the Danish West Indies, you will find a beautiful tapestry of life that reflects our “baseball and apple pie”. This site affords you the chance to transform yourself to a time during the Danish period (1734-1917) where life was both simple and complex. If you have any questions, comments, or need assistance in searching for a Danish West Indies ancestor, I invite you to drop me an email.


  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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