From these somewhat modest beginnings has grown a project that has become an archival collaboration including digitized documents from the Boston Athenaeum, Massachusetts Historical Society, Massachusetts State Archives, Massachusetts State House Special Collections, City of Boston Archives, and the American Antiquarian Society.
Our first step was to develop a searchable database of African-Americans living in the neighborhood around the time of 1850. We began with Boston city directories which listed the names, occupations and addresses of adult residents of Boston. Although race is not one of the categories listed, these directories had separate lists for “People of Color” until the 1849-50 city directory. Ironically, this segregation made it easy to develop an initial database including street addresses. Starting with the 1849-1850 directory, it was difficult to tell which residents were black. The 1850 United States Census Population Schedule was helpful to this end. We purchased a CD-ROM of the Census and began looking through digitized copies of the original enumeration. We found the enumeration districts for Beacon Hill and the West End, which closely correspond to the political wards of the city. The 1850 Census allowed our database to expand to include categories such as age, sex, race, occupation, value of real estate, place of birth, and ability to read and write. The students printed copies of the original enumeration sheets from the CD-ROM and, using blank census forms, began the laborious process of transcribing and typing all of the individual demographic data from the African-Americans that were listed. This process was painstaking as the writing of the original enumerators was in cursive and was in many cases difficult to read. Any questionable transcriptions of names were searched on the CD-ROM, which has a name index, for verification. Although the 1850 census expanded the categories of our database it omits one important category that the city directory does not: the street address. This was problematic since a study of a neighborhood should include addresses to answer questions such as:
1. Was the neighborhood racially mixed?
2. Was it segregated by race, occupation, or place of birth?
3. Who owns the specific houses?
4. Is the neighborhood static or dynamic over time?