Project Roots: Tillman – 1920 U.S. Federal Census

1920 U.S. Federal Census – Georgia, Jones, Whites, District 0130
Sheet No. 3B – Enumerated on 6 February 1920

Screenshot 2023-02-10

My great-grandfather, Rev. Rufus J. Tillman, Sr, was recorded as 27 years of age of the 1920 census.  This is incorrect.  He was born on the 10th of January in 1897.  On the date of enumeration, he would have been 23 years of age.

He was discharged from the Army after having been drafted for WWI a little less than two months prior to enumeration.  My guess is that he returned home after discharge and lived with his parents until he was able to gain the resources needed to live on his own.

The census also recorded him as married.  The only documented female in the house recorded by the enumerator is his mother, Henny (Henrietta) Tillman.  In addition, this does not match any of the sources that I’ve researched.  According to my information, my great-grandfather did not marry Bessie Lee Carter (the love of his life) until 1924.  I’ve made the choice to dismiss this as a documenting error.

National Archives

I searched the National Archives for a 1920 census enumeration district map for Jones County, Georgia and came up empty.  The only two that I was able to find were 1940 and 1950.  Fortunately, the militia district remained the same in 1940.  Based on my research and documentation, my great-grandfather and his parents lived on a farm somewhere within the blue markings that I’ve made on this map.  Click or tap here to see all four sections of this map.

My great-grandfather and 2nd great-grandfather are both recorded as farmers working on their “own account.”  This term, “own account,” always bothers me because I am never really sure how to interpret it.

Excerpt from 1920 Instruction Guide for Census Enumerators

The instruction guide defines Working on own account as –

A person who has a gainful occupation and is neither an employer nor a salary or wage worker, is considered to be working on his own account.  Such persons are independent workers.  They neither pay nor receive salaries or regular wages.  Examples of this class are:  Farmers and owners of small establishments who do not employ helpers; professional men who work for fees and employ no helpers; and, generally speaking, hucksters, peddlers, newsboys, bootblacks, etc.

This definition is a blurred line for me.  It can either be a fancy definition of being self-employed, or a conscious effort to not use the term “sharecropper.”  After all, sharecroppers neither paid nor received salaries or regular wages, and the only helpers they had were members of their own families.  They worked independently, but at the end of the harvest season, a portion of their crops were turned over the landowner.  So, who owned the land that my 2nd great-grandfather, and great-grandfather “worked independently”?

After perusing all 14 pages of the 1920 Jones County, Georgia census record for militia district 0130, I came across eight names of white families where the heads of household  were listed as being employers in the general farm industry.  The names are Turner, Hadoway, Goolsby, Gordon, King, Jackson, White, and Russell.  Any one of these families could have owned the land that my ancestors worked.

At the end of the enumeration for district 0103 it was noted that there was a population of 659 people and 117 of them were farmers.  I noticed that the farmers not classified as employers were either wage earners on a general farm, or working on own account.  Less than five of these farmers working on own account were white.  There’s no way all of them were self-employed.  Sure sounds like sharecropping to me.