Researching African-American ancestors presents unique challenges. Use these resources to help you discover more about your ancestors.
Delving into the African-American genealogy research of my ancestors’ slaves, I recognized a large and important gap in my research knowledge. My initial goal was to research what happened to a slave child owned my great-great-great grandmother Samantha Buchanan Maddox of Chatham County, NC. I quickly learned the need to educate myself on the unique aspects of African-American genealogy and the resources and databases available. Honestly, I was humbled by the size of the gap in my knowledge.
What follows are some great resources for researching African-American genealogy. This is not a complete list (nor is it meant to be). Let’s get started and share what we learn along the way. Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments or on the facebook page.
Resources for Researching Your African-American Ancestors
- Your Family – Ask your members (especially the older generations) about your family’s history. Yes, I know you hear this tip from me frequently, but it is so important to your research process. Don’t miss out on vital family history simply because you did not ask. (I’m stepping off of my soapbox now.)
- US Federal Census Records (1870 and later)
- Slave Schedules – Can be found at Ancestry.com (1850 & 1860), FamilySearch.org (1850), and FindMyPast (1850). (Tip: Search individual state archives for slave schedules as well.)
- Newspapers – In addition to the larger subscription databases (Ex: GenealogyBank), check Chronicling America (It’s free!) and individual state archive’s digital collections. For the month of Feb 2016, Fold3 has made their African-American collection free.
- Documenting the American South is sponsored by the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Search by topic or browse the collections. Slave narratives and the influence of the church on the African-American population are just a sample of what you can find. (Read more about DOCSouth here.)
- AfriGeneas – A website devoted to African-American genealogy research. Be sure and check out their online community, too.
- Low Country Africana – African American Genealogy in SC, GA and FL – Beautiful website dedicated to African-American genealogy research of SC, GA, and FL ancestors.
- The Freedmen’s Bureau
- The Freedmen’s Bureau Records – North Carolina
- Digital Library of American Slavery – sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)
- The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
Bloggers to Follow
Some of your best resources for researching your African American ancestors will be other researchers and bloggers. Learning from each other and collaborating with researchers can increase your chances of success. Below is a list of blogs focusing on African American genealogy research.
Saving Stories by Robin Foster
My Ancestor’s Name by Angela Y. Walton-Raji
Roots Revealed by Melvin Collier
Between the Gate Posts by LindaRe
Our Black Ancestry by Sharon Leslie Morgan
Notes to Myself by True Lewis
Classes and Workshops on African American Research
- Ancestry.com – Offers videos on beginning your African American genealogy research.
- Local libraries, museums, historical societies, genealogy societies all offer educational programs for genealogists of all levels. These will often be able to provide local knowledge on research topics and repositories not easily found elsewhere. Research the offerings in your area and the area where your ancestors lived.