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African American Research

By Traci L. Wilson-Kleecamp

African American genealogy can be very exciting research. To begin, we always start with family.  By talking to our family members they give the foundation of your research by providing information on those who have passed on. That information can be used to research the various resources available through books, the internet, historical societies and archives.


Census Schedules give details of the members of a family and relatives that may have lived with them during a particular census year. The 1870 census was the first year that African Americans were listed by their surnames. In some cases they were listed in the household of Whites as housekeepers or servants. The 1900 and 1910 census years gave the most details of the family structure. These census years listed the amount of children a woman gave birth to, how many were living and how many were deceased. This has served as a vital piece of information for researchers.  In a lot of cases a person may have been listed in a particular county and state in one census year and another county and state in later census years. This was due in part to the head of householdís ability to work and provide for the family; when work was scarce the family would move to an area that offered jobs and opportunity for the family.


Mortality Schedules have also proven to be a great source for African American research. Mortality Schedules gave information such as the personís names, for African Americans it listed only the first name if they were a slave. It also listed their age, illness, whether they was a slave, the county and state of death. Mortality Schedules served as a death record during a period when death certificates werenít being recorded.


Cemeteries and surveys of cemeteries are another source for African American researchers. During the 19th and 20th centuries some areas African Americans were buried in separate cemeteries than Whites. This has made it easier for researchers to distinguish their burials. When someone surveys a cemetery they can record such information as the personís name, date of birth, date of death and military status in some cases; on some tombstones the years of death and birth may be all that is listed.


Before slavery was abolished and all slaves were set free there was a Deed of Manumission or Deed of Emancipation for Slaves who were set free by their Slave-owners. Deeds of this type were only issued by the Slave-owner and recorded in the County Courts. A freed person of color had to carry this Deed with him at all times in case there was a question of whether they were a slave or free person of color.  When a Slave was born or died in some localities a record was kept. The record would show the Slave-owners name, the childís name, the date of birth or death, sex, motherís name and birthplace. The natural fatherís name was listed as the Slave-owner, the childís name was sometimes listed as ďno nameĒ and the motherís name wasnít always mentioned.  Slave (first) names were listed in Probate records as being freed, in Wills as inherited property.


African American genealogy records are limited but resourceful. I have mentioned a few that will assist those in search of their lineage. There are many more that can be found in County and State archives, Court records, libraries, genealogy libraries and books to name a few. The amazing thing is that one source opens a door to the next and the journey continues.




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