African American Genealogy Records
“Believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life.”
— W.E.B. Du Bois
“We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.”
— Jesse Owens
“There's nothing written in the Bible, Old or New Testament, that says, ‘If you believe in Me, you ain't going to have no troubles.’”
— Ray Charles
W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. Born in Massachusetts, Du Bois attended Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate. He was a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University, and he was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Du Bois was a vocal opponent of racism. He spoke out against lynching, discrimination in the military, and racism in education. His cause included colored persons everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in their struggles against colonialism and imperialism. He helped organized several Pan-African Congresses to free African colonies from European powers. Du Bois was a feminist who supported the women's suffrage movement.
Du Bois was a prolific author, producing dozens of influential editorials in NAACP's journal The Crisis. His 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk was a seminal work in African-American literature, and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that blacks did not contribute anything of value during the Reconstruction era. Du Bois felt that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated for nuclear disarmament.
James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete who specialized in the sprints and the long jump. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team. He was the most successful athlete at the 1936 Summer Olympics, a victory more poignant and often noted because Adolf Hitler had intended the 1936 games to showcase his Aryan ideals and prowess.
He has the Jesse Owens Award accolade named after him in honor of his significant career.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. King's efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. There, he expanded American values to include the vision of a color blind society, and established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.
In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam War.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress called "the first lady of civil rights", and "the mother of the freedom movement".
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Parks' act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.
Parks took her action as a private citizen because she was "tired of giving in". Although widely honored in later years for her action, she suffered at the time for her decion, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. After retirement from this position, she wrote an autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit. In her final years she suffered from dementia.
Parks eventually received many honors ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and second non-U.S. government official granted the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
Born August 4, 1901, Louis Daniel Armstrong was an icon in the field of American jazz. Also known as Satchmo, Armstrong was equally famous for his deep gravelly voice, using it to sing scat, which used sounds instead of actual words. Armstrong’s musical skills and dynamic stage presence created many opportunities for him to excel on the stage.
Over the years, Armstrong played in numerous bands, learning style and refining his technique as he played with and learned from some of the jazz greats, such as Joe “King” Oliver, whom Armstrong considered his mentor.
In 1947, the band Louis Armstrong and his All Stars was born. It had some of the best jazz musicians of the day in it. It was during this time that Armstrong made many records and appeared in over thirty films. He was the first jazz musician to ever appear on the cover of Time Magazine.
On July 6, 1971 Louis Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep. His honorary pallbearers included Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Johnny Carson and several other famous celebrates.
Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson (January 31, 1919–October 24, 1972) was an American baseball player who became the first black Major League Baseball (MLB) player of the modern era. As the first black man to play in the major leagues since the 1880s, he was instrumental in bringing an end to racial segregation in professional baseball, which had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for six decades. The example of his character and unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation, which then marked many other aspects of American life, and contributed significantly, to the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to his cultural impact, Robinson had an exceptional baseball career. Over ten seasons, he played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers' 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams.
Robinson was also known for his pursuits outside the baseball diamond. He was the first black television analyst in Major League Baseball, and the first black vice-president of a major American corporation. In the 1960s, he helped establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution based in Harlem, New York. In recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Lois Mailou Jones
Lois Mailou Jones (November 3, 1905 – June 9, 1998) was an artist who painted and influenced others during the Harlem Renaissance. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts and is buried on her beloved Martha's Vineyard.
Jones began painting as a child and had shows of her work when she was in high school. After graduation from the School of the Museum of Art in Boston, she began looking for a way for her name to become known. She was hired by Charlotte Hawkins Brown and founded the art department at Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina. Only one year later, she was recruited to join the art department at Howard University in Washington D.C., and remained as professor of design and watercolor painting until her retirement in 1977.
In 1927, she was awarded a diploma in Design with honors and went on to do graduate studies at prestigious schools in the U.S. and France. She graduated from Howard University in 1945, graduating magna cum laude, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Suffolk University in Boston. She also has received honorary degrees from Colorado State Christian University, Massachusetts College of Art, and Howard University and was elected Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in London. Her work is in museums all over the world and valued by collectors.
In 1980, she was honored by President Jimmy Carter at the White House for outstanding achievements in the arts. Her paintings grace the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Palace in Haiti, and the National Museum of Afro-American Artists and many others.
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. March 1822 – March 10, 1913) actively participated in the freeing of slaves and in spying for the Union during the American Civil War. An African–American abolitionist and humanitarian, Tubman made thirteen missions to rescue more than 70 slaves using a network of safe houses created by antislavery activists that became known as the Underground Railroad. An escaped slave herself, Tubman returned to free her brothers and other family members and lead them to freedom. Tubman claimed she "never lost a passenger" while guiding escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad.
A devout Christian, Tubman felt a divine responsibility to help others enjoy the same freedom she had first found in Philadelphia. During the American Civil War, Tubman worked as a nurse and cook in the Union Army. She then became an armed spy and was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. The expedition ended in the Combahee River Raid, which freed more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.
Tubman continued to act as a humanitarian and activist after the war until her death in 1913.
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders' arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave.
Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his life as a slave, and his struggles to be free. His first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was published in 1845 and was his best-known work, influential in gaining support for abolition. He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War. After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the United States' struggle to reach its potential as a "land of the free". Douglass actively supported women's suffrage. Following the war, he worked on behalf of equal rights for Freedman, and held multiple public offices.
Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant.
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver (January 1864 – January 5, 1943), was an American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor. He is believed to have been born into slavery in Missouri in January 1864.
Carver's reputation is based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops, such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes, which also helped provide additional nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops that would serve as a source of inexpensive food and as a source of income to improve the quality of their life. He created a popular bulletin for farmers containing 105 food recipes using peanuts. He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP.
During the Reconstruction-era, the practice of growing just only cotton depleted the soil in many areas. In the early 20th century, the boll weevil destroyed much of the cotton crop, and planters and farm workers suffered great financial losses. Carver's work with peanuts was intended to provide an alternative crop.
In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a "Black Leonardo", a reference to the Renaissance Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was a politician, educator, and author. She was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress. She represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (Margaret Chase Smith had previously run for the Republican presidential nomination). She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported spending increases for education, health care and other social services, and reductions in military spending.
In the area of national security and foreign policy, Chisholm worked for the revocation of Internal Security Act of 1950. She opposed the American involvement in the Vietnam War and the expansion of weapon developments. During the Jimmy Carter administration, she called for better treatment of Haitian refugees.After retirement she resumed her career in education, teaching politics and women's studies. She was named to the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College from 1983 to 1987. In 1984 and 1988, she campaigned for Jesse Jackson for the presidential elections. In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton nominated her to the ambassadorship to Jamaica, but she could not serve due to poor health. In the same year she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), known by his shortened stage name Ray Charles, was a pioneer in the genre of American soul music during the 1950s. He fused rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records. He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles "the only true genius in show business."
The influences upon his music were mainly jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and country artists of the day such as Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, Louis Armstrong. His playing reflected influences from country blues and barrelhouse, and stride piano styles.
Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". In honoring Charles, Billy Joel noted: "This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley. I don't know if Ray was the architect of rock & roll, but he was certainly the first guy to do a lot of things . . . Who the hell ever put so many styles together and made it work?"
Find Your Ancestors in the Following Collections:
- United States, Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops, 1863-1865
- Freedmans Bank Records, 1865-1874
- Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869
- Virginia, Freedmen's Bureau Letters, 1865-1872
- You can also search for your African American ancestors
in our census, vital, and other historical records.
African American Genealogy Records and Research
Most people seeking their African American genealogy can trace their ancestry to slaves who were brought to this country from Africa and from the Caribbean Islands. FamilySearch provides free access to valuable African American historical records. These include military, census, and vital records, slave ownership records and bank records. Research guides and instructional videos are also available to help you learn how to use these records to find your ancestors.
The Freedmen's Bureau was a U.S. federal government agency, initiated by President Lincoln after the Civil War to aide distressed freed slaves. The Bureau's main role during the years of 1865-1869 was to provide emergency food, housing, medical aid, and help reunite families. Later, it focused its work on helping freed slaves adjust to their new found freedom.
The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Records
The records of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company were created as newly freed slaves opened savings accounts and borrowed money. The bank failed in 1874 but the records of the bank remain. The bank registers date from 1864 to 1871. They show the names, residence, and description of each depositor. They may also include the genealogy and relatives of the depositor.
These records are indexed and include about 480,000 personal names. They often show family history information about each depositor, such as birth date, birthplace, where raised, former owner, employer, occupation, residence, and relatives.
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- United States Freedman’s Bureau Letters (FamilySearch Historical Records)
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