Census Sunday: The World’s Oldest Profession in Cherokee County, Georgia

I don’t even know if I should post this, but what the heck. Facts are facts…

Do you know when you get those little nagging feelings that you’re not done researching? That there’s something out there that you really want to see? Long story short, one of my great-grand-grandfathers married twice. Being a bit of a completist, I decided to try and discover the maiden name of his first wife. Well, I found her.

In the census with her mother, Susan Tyler, in 1860…

Who had an interesting occupation…

1860 United States Federal Census, Cherokee County Georgia, Wild Cat District, p. 21
1860 United States Federal Census, Cherokee County Georgia, Wild Cat District, p. 21

Yep, my great-great-grandpa married the daughter of a prostitue. Kudos to you GGGramps for being open-minded!

How did this happen? Perhaps the instructions to census takers in 1860 provides a clue:

10. Profession, Trade, and Occupation— Under head 7, entitled “Profession, occupation, or trade of each person over fifteen years of age,” insert the specific profession, occupation, or trade the individual being enumerated is reputed to follow. The proprietor of a farm for the time being, who pursues agriculture professionally or practically, is to be recorded as a farmer; the men who are employed for wages by him are to be termed farm laborers. The members, or inmates, of a family employed in domestic duties at wages you will record as “servants,” or “serving,” or “domestic,” according to the custom of the vicinage.

A mechanic who employs others under him is to be termed differently from the one employed. The first is a master mechanic, and should be termed “master mason,” “master carpenter,” etc., as the case may be, and you should be very particular in designating the employers or master mechanics from the workmen or employed. Where persons (over 15) are learning trades or serving apprenticeship, they should be recorded as “apprentices,” with the name of the trade whereunto they are apprenticed. The employment of every person over 15, having an occupation, should be asked and recorded. In every case insert the kind of labor and nature of apprenticeship.

When the individual is a clergyman, insert the initials of the denomination to which he belongs — as Meth. for Methodist; R.C. for Roman Catholic; O.S.P., Old School Presbyterian; P.E., Protestant Episcopal; or other appropriate designation, as the case may require. If a person follows several occupations, insert the name of the most prominent. If the person should be a teacher or professor, state the character of the occupation, as teacher of French, of common school; professor of mathematics, of languages, of philosophy, etc. In fine, record the occupation of every human being, male and female, (over 15,) who has an occupation or means of living, and let your record be so clear as to leave no doubt on the subject.

Another interesting fact: She’s not the only prostitute in that census.

And another interest fact: The Wild Cat District is now known as Holly Springs.

Oh, and one more. She was in good company. A few doors down there lived…

Cherokee County Georgia Vagabond

Thompson Honea, Vagabond.

Oh no, this is not the end of this for me.

Happy Detecting!


10 thoughts on “Census Sunday: The World’s Oldest Profession in Cherokee County, Georgia”

  1. You can’t change history so you might as well enjoy it. I wonder what the first meeting between your GGGF and his mother-in-law was like. Another moment it would be fun to be a fly on the wall.

    • Right!? She outlived her daughter and lived in the same small town so I’m sure that was a hot topic of gossip for more than a minute! (Also, I’ve been looking into this and found at least 4 more Prostitues in the county so far. I love how candid the census taker was! But I also wonder about his biases…)

    • Right!? I was so surprised (and pleased, in a curious way) to see that! It helps us track how underground economies might have operated. Now I have to get over there and see if I can find out anything about these ladies criminal records. At least one of them was found in the 1870 census enumerated with several unrelated men of different ages. I’m assuming she was operating a boarding house, though the census just gives her occupation as “keeping house.” I’m definitely investigating this further!

  2. Wow, that’s quite a find! I’ve never come across any censuses that list prostitutes as a profession yet. Discoveries like this keep genealogy exciting…

  3. One of my direct line ancestors is also one of the Wild Cat District “Pros”. A little compassion may be in order here. These were real people. I wonder, what kind of mother was she? Did she see that her children were taught to read & write? Did she steer them away from the life she had? Did they grow up to be moral, church going, honest citizens?

    It is a hard thing to be labeled for what you are at a point in time on an official document for all posterity. At least for all mortality with no chance to explain or to change. Things I wonder, what was her life like as a child? What opportunities did she have? What abuses did she suffer that would bring her to that point in 1870?

    I know a little “white out” would be useful in my life. Hopefully the descendants of the Wild Cat District can find and know more about those ancestors. The more we learn about them the better person they will become, I think we owe them that much.

    • I totally agree and hope you didn’t misunderstand the intention of my post to mean that I was “naming and shaming.” Of course compassion is in order here! As a female entrepreneur myself, I think any woman who has to make her way on her own is a total badass. I actually ended up going through the 1870 Cherokee County Census and making a list of females who had a profession other than “keeping house” and even found the local midwife listed! (She lived in the Canton district.)

      Since this is your direct ancestor, I think it would be awesome if you would do this research. Unfortunately, this Susan Tyler is only tangential to my family history (the mother of a first wife) and I have elderly relatives and am on a bit of a deadline trying to find out info about our family history on their behalf. Should the time ever come that *I* had the chance to research this, I’d like to find some mention of the ladies listed as “prostitutes” and the midwife in other documents. Also, they may have criminal records (even midwives! – even though this one lived with her husband and children, so doesn’t seem like she was “shunned” like some were.) One of my first serious papers when I was working on my history degree was about Lena Baker, the only woman ever executed in Georgia and she had been previously busted for prostitution, but those records in small counties are often disorganized or not indexed, and as a poor college student I only had one day to spend in her home county. *sigh* Also, for a lot of these women who lived their lives before birth and death certificates, a criminal record or court appearance is often the only paper trail. I’d start at Probate Court! Contact me if you find anything exciting!


      • Was not getting on anyone’s case. I was just in a reflective mood. Susan Tyler is not my ancestor, one of the other “pros” is. I have been able to do a little research the last couple of days and find all the children so far of my gggGrandma turned out very well, despite not having a father present and what had to be a difficult time. Two served honorably in the Civil war (for the Union) one a Mason, others upstanding citizens in the community, etc. All raised children on their own with similar results. I think that says a lot about gggGrandma’s character. I found her probate file and it was clear she went out of her way to treat her children equally and from all indications they cared well for her.

        • That’s so wonderful! From what I can tell about the child of Susan Tyler, she died young in child birth, but her daughter’s daughter married a very strictly religious man and moved into a religious community at Stamp Creek in Bartow County. I have to wonder if her family background made the pendulum swing in the opposite direction?

          The thing that made me a lot less compassionate than the whole “prostitute” job was the fact that this granddaughter’s children didn’t go to school and were illiterate, even up into the 20th century. Like I wrote in another post, it’s funny the things that we get on our ancestor’s cases for, even though they were obviously a product of their times and couldn’t divorce themselves from that!


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