Sometimes researching African American ancestors can seem daunting because of the lack of records that may exist after only a few generations or the anonymity that slavery forced on one's ancestors. But as with any genealogy project, make sure to start with yourself and go backwards. Research is easier when you start with current, living generations and then work your way back instead of skipping several generations and not benefiting from talking with living family members and gathering home sources.
Afrigeneas is "a web site devoted to African American genealogy, to researching African Ancestry in the Americas in particular and to genealogical research and resources in general." On this web site you can read a beginner's guide to African American research; find transcriptions of U. S. federal census records that enumerate blacks and/or slaves; search a death records database; library records; and slave data, just to name a few resources. A state guide provides a history of each state and the African American people living in those states. This proves to be valuable in better understanding your ancestor and where they lived. This web site could be the subject of an article itself with its online resources, chat rooms, message boards, and other offerings. Don't forget to look over the links list for additional web sites about African American research, slavery, and general genealogical sites. This web site is an important first stop in researching your ancestors.
The National Archives provides information about African American research and sources available at its web site http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/heritage/african-american/ . This guide covers research in the pre-Civil War era, military records and the post-Civil War era. Another article available on the web site details the Freedman's Bureau marriage records. This article entitled, "Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony Freedman's Bureau Marriage Records," by Reginald Washington. The The Freedmens Bureau Online includes some marriage records as well as other Freedman records.
One helpful site for those with slave ancestors is the Library of Congress, "Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1938", which is a collection of more than 2,300 narratives and over 500 photographs. These interviews were done by out of work writers during the Depression and was eventually edited and combined into 17 bound volumes entitled, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. The new digital version contains photos and narratives not used in the previous volumes. You can search the collection by keyword or narrator name. Photos can be searched by subject's name or state. In some cases by doing a photo search, you can see digitized images of the original transcripts of the interviews.
For those with ancestors who were enslaved in Georgia, Georgia's Slave Population in Legal Records: Where and How to Look, by David E. Paterson is a great introduction to courthouse records and resources that may be beneficial in your search. Patterson provides information on probate records, deeds, civil cases, judgment dockets, criminal and miscellaneous records, as well as information on the court system.
Princeton Public Library hosts a directory of links to web sites featuring information on African American research. You can find it at http://www.princeton.lib.nj.us/robeson/genealogylinks.html. Links are indexed for such topics as the census, federal records, death records, local history, libraries, African American history, state guides, international resources and more.
A good resource book is, Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree, by Tony Burroughs. (ISBN# 0684847043). Tony is a well known researcher/lecturer. If you have a chance at a national conference to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.
Other articles that may be helpful include, The Transition From Slavery to Freedom at http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=3318 and African American Links and Resources at http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=3319 , both are available through the Ancestry.com Learning Center (a free resource).
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
Would you like to browse through our collection of GenWeekly articles written exclusively for Genealogy Today? Yes, take me there Would you like to keep up-to-date with the latest releases from Genealogy Today, along with news from a variety of other sources by receiving The Genealogy News (a FREE service) by email? Yes, sign me up Would you like to become a Genealogy Today member and be able to manage your research experience, post messages to forums, add comments to resources and much more? Yes, show me how Would you like to tap into our community of over 85,000 members by posting a query and get assistance breaking down your most difficult brickwalls? Yes, show me how Would you like to go shopping in a marketplace of over 700 items, including charts, scrapbooking materials, books and a variety of unique gifts and supplies? Yes, take me there