Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of the popular television show Finding Your Roots has a column on the website The Root in which he answers readers’ questions about their ancestors of color. I recently wrote to him inquiring about my 3rd great-grandfather Obediah Copeland, who is listed as a “free person of color” on both the 1820 State Census and the 1830 US Federal Census for Gallatin County, Illinois. I was curious to know more about his ancestral origins, and also to learn why his ethnicity changed from “free colored” to “white” on subsequent records. He was not able to provide any new information about the origins of the Copeland or Hood families, but he did provide a wealth of new sources to consult, and some very interesting information about people of color who chose to “pass” as white in America during the antebellum years.
You can view the article on The Root here: “I’m Curious About My Free-Colored Ancestor”
Or download a PDF here: Who was my free-colored ancestor?