Harmful Language Content

It is important to acknowledge that some descriptors found in historical material are potentially harmful, offensive, or outdated. Language related to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc., is not always neutral. Any potentially harmful terminology has only been included as part of direct transcriptions of historical material. The following is a list of historical terms that are reflected in various documents, and have been important to how researchers have searched for material relating to Black lives in Keene. Creating language content warnings for individual items is in progress. 

Frequent Historical Terminology in Primary Source Material


  • Racial distinction used primarily before the 1930s for those of mixed-race ancestry, typically those with one Black and one white parent. However, this term could also potentially have been used for those of other mixed-race identities, such as mixed-race indigenous Americans. The term mulatto is a legacy of attempts to establish taxonomies of race, a socially constructed concept that has no biological basis. In the 1930 census, the term mulatto was no longer used by enumerators. 

Indentured/Indented Servant

  • An indentured or indented servant is a person bound through a contract to the service of another, which might be a specified number of years or until the servant reaches a certain age. Indentured servitude is a way for an individual to benefit from the cheap, contractually bound labor of another. Indentured servitude severely limits the freedoms of the laboring individual.


  • An apprenticeship is a type of employment where an individual, likely a young individual, has been bound to another as an apprentice to learn a trade from them. This individual would feed, clothe and instruct the apprentice in the trade, and in return, the apprentice would provide labor and watch out for their interests. The type of apprenticeship also varied; apprentices had opportunities to learn trades, however, the master still would benefit from the cheap and contractual labor of the apprentice. 

Domestic Servant

  • A domestic servant is an individual who provides various household services for another individual or family. A domestic servitude can be both unpaid or paid. Servitude can indicate the labor of an enslaved person. Most domestic servants are women. 


  • A runaway, or an individual who has ranaway, from an employer or household. Ranaway and runaway advertisements can be found in local newspapers, being posted by those either contractually bound or living with the runaway person. The advertisements typically list things such as race, appearance, age, name, and reward for return. Many runaway advertisements deal with indentured servants or apprentices. 

Misc. terminology 

  • There are other search terms that have been used to locate records relating to individuals in Keene that may be outdated, harmful, or offensive terminology. The way certain individuals have been described in historical material is most often the result of the creator of the material; in many instances, the historical material is created by governmental or other institutional authorities. It is critical to be aware of the harm that use of these terms cause, both historically and presently. However, it is also important to recognize that these terms enable the visibility of these individuals in many types of archival material. Some terms used by researchers to uncover material have included  “Negro”, “Colored”, “Black boy”, and “Mulatto."