African American Introduction
African-American genealogical research for recent years follows the same procedures as for any other ethnic group. However, there are specific strategies for tracing African-American roots prior to 1870. Most of the records are available through the Family History Library and through www.FamilySearch.org.
There are two research guides for Afro-American Research – Quick Guide African American Records and Finding Records of your Ancestors African Americans 1870 to present. Both are part of this web site.
There is also a special web page on FamilySearch.org that can be viewed for general information.
An excellent guide is "Finding a Place Called Home: An African American Guide to Genealogical and Historical Identity" by Dee Parmer Woodtor (book 973 F2wd). This book explains the basic as well as complex research techniques required for African-American research. An additional source is Family History Library Bibliography of African American Sources by Marie Taylor (book 973 F23tm). This book lists 3,320 African American sources, including Canadian records. It also includes articles from historical and genealogical periodicals. Also, African-Americans with Native American ancestry should check African-Cherokee Connections (CD-ROM 2928 in the Family History Library).
The following records can help determine if an ancestor was born free or freed by slave owner.
For records of the Underground Railroad, go to: www.freedomcenter.org/freedomstations/ and www.nationalgeographic.com/features/99/railroad/j1.html.
To make a slave connection, you must first identify the slave owner, and then study the owner’s records for clues to family information. About 15 percent of former slaves took their last slave owner’s surname. Sources for identifying the slave owner include Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations From the Revolution Through the Civil War : Series A through N (film nos. 1,534,196 through 1,534,236), and military records at:
The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Records include birthplace, place brought up, residence, age, complexion, name of employer or occupation, spouse, children, father, mother, brothers and sisters, remarks, and signature. These records are found in Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865—1874 (film nos. 928,571 through 928,591). An additional guide for Freedmen’s Bureau field office records is Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands: Record Group 105 by Elaine Everly and Willna Pacheli (book 973 F23ea). Part 1 includes Alabama and Louisiana, Part 2 includes Maryland and South Carolina, and Part 3 includes Tennessee and Virginia. Some of the Freedmen’s Bureau records are available online at:
Another helpful source of information for locating African-American ancestors is the Records of the Commissioners of Claims 1871—1880 (film nos. 1,463,963 through 1,463,987). Nearly 22,300 cases are filed by individual names, family groups, churches, and businesses. Records include testimony of neighbors, relatives, and former slaves to support a claimant’s assertions, taken during the Civil War because of loyalty to the Union. A master index to these case files is found in Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission by Gary B. Mills (book 975 M2s).
There are also more than 3,500 typescript pages of interviews with former slaves found in A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave by Howard E. Potts (book 973 F22p). The narrative collection can be searched online for a fee at:
The following guidebooks and histories are available at the Family History Library:
Black Genealogy: How To Begin by James D. Walker (book 973 F26w),
Black roots : a beginners guide to tracing the African American family tree Burroughs, Tony 973 D27 bt FHL US/Can books