Race and Space in Nineteenth-Century New Haven: A Case Study in Reconstructing Block-Level Demography

Sean Morey Smith, Yale School of Medicine

Reconstructing early nineteenth-century spatial demographics is challenging. Modern spatial demographics are relatively easy to look up and map. Today, federal U.S. census data is divided into census blocks which are designed to be as fine grained as possible without revealing individual households’ statistics. However, before the 1870 census, data was only tabulated at the county, and sometimes the city or town, level. Though the census schedules showing individual household data (and all free individuals from 1850) are now publicly available, these records are not geographically located in any more detail, meaning no street or address information is included. So, how can we reconstruct nineteenth-century demographic patterns within cities and counties? City directories helpfully locate people spatially. They include people’s addresses, sometimes both home and work ones, and they often include personal information such as people’s professions and even how they were racialized. Though they are less comprehensive than censuses, city directories locate a significant number of people, and comparing the directory data with census tallies provides a sense of who is missing. This paper describes the methods used to map early-nineteenth-century New Haven’s racial demography based on the 1841 city directory. It traces reconstructing the historical road network and addresses and then mapping the directory entries. The paper considers the benefits and potential pitfalls of this approach before concluding by describing how reconstructing New Haven’s racial demography contributed to answering other research questions.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 46. Residential Geographies and Segregation: 19th Century