Although African-Americans face more challenges than almost any other ethnic group when it comes to tracing their roots, online records can make the discovery of family history easier than ever before. MyFamily.com, the most popular and comprehensive family history research and connection resource online, offers the following tips to make the search a bit easier:
Sketch your family tree based entirely on memory
Even if it's full of question marks, a rough draft will tell you what you'll need to research in the coming months. Gather the records you have on hand and compare them with your outline. Birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death records can provide much of the information you are missing.
Search the U.S. Federal Census
For many African-Americans, the paper trail begins with the 1870 Census. This is the first U.S. Census that listed former slaves as citizens and may also include the last-known residences of their earliest free ancestors. Another great resource is the Census Free Population Schedules. These schedules list the names of African-American citizens living in the northern free states prior to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Glancing at a census record can reveal information like an ancestor's occupation, annual income and home ownership. Census records are available online at Ancestry.com.
Study family trees submitted by genealogists
Many researchers assume their efforts are pioneering, but many genealogists have already researched the exact same family lines. By reviewing family trees created by other genealogists, you might find references to your own ancestors. MyFamily.com hosts the largest collection of family trees on the Internet containing more than 250 million names.
Read slave narratives
Journals and slave narratives are among the most evocative of genealogical resources for African-Americans. Now that these texts are available online, researchers can easily search for specific names and events. More importantly, these first-hand accounts not only provide a snapshot view of slave life in America, but also sometimes provide details about a slave's parents and/or owners. And many of these accounts contain insights into slave folklore, poetry, songs, recipes and even ghost stories. The entire Slave Narrative collection is available online through MyFamily.com.
Share and Preserve
Show off your handiwork through a tangible heirloom to pass on to children and grandchildren. Consider creating a website through MyFamily.com to conveniently share your family tree, pictures, and documents with family members.
"For African-Americans, piecing together family history can present some unique challenges," said Tom Stockham, president and CEO of MyFamily.com. "Fortunately, there is a vast collection of data available online that can provide insight into your family history. With more than 4 billion records available online, MyFamily.com is making it easier everyday to discover who you are and where you come from."