African American ancestry research can certainly be challenging, but we love a challenge, and will leave no stone unturned.
Tracing African American Ancestry
We often hear from prospective clients who want to learn more about their heritage, but because of their African American ancestry they assume that their line will dead end right around the Civil War era, and we won’t be able to help them go beyond those ancestors. This assumption isn’t true!
African American ancestry research can certainly be challenging, but our genealogical professionals have the skills and the desire to help you learn as much as possible about your family’s past. Whether your ancestors were enslaved or lived as free men and women, we look forward to the opportunity to research your family’s history.
Understanding African American Genealogy Research
It’s important to note that not every person of African American descent has only slaves as their ancestors. Some African Americans were granted their freedom prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, some were successful runaways, and others were never enslaved to begin with.
Whether those free ancestors lived in Northern or Southern states, they would have been included in the census reports, pension records (for those who served in the Union Army during the Civil War) and other records, just like any other early-American family.
Also, some African Americans were held as slaves by Native Americans – particularly those of the “Five Civilized Tribes” – and their names may appear in the Dawes Rolls and on other Native American rolls and lists.
Using Genealogy Records to Trace Former Slave Ancestors
Even for those who were slaves, there are still avenues available to trace their African American ancestry and learn more about their lives. Freedman’s Bureau records, southern states Voter’s Registers from 1867, and marriage records of former slaves are all documents which might list names of family members.
A close examination of the 1870 census can reveal useful hints, too. Few people moved far from their homes after the Civil War. This means that it is likely that your slave ancestors were enumerated next door (or at least nearby) to the family who used to own them. By collecting the names of the families who lived close to the former slave ancestors, we can search other sources in an effort to trace those people when they were enslaved.
Other less traditional records can also be helpful. A newspaper advertisement for a slave auction might include the name of a mother and her child. A different type of advertisement, like one searching for a runaway slave, can also provide family names, possible places the person might have run to because of family living in that other location, and often a physical description of the person.
Because slaves were considered property and therefore were bought and sold and given to family members as legacies, bills of sale, deeds, wills and probate records are other tools used to learn more about their lives and their families.
Our Network of Onsite Researchers Can Help
While many of these records may not be available to research online, we know where to find them and can visit the archives, libraries, courthouses, or other locations where they might be kept.
Despite the challenges that African American ancestry research can present, our team of genealogy researchers have had some great success in extending our clients’ African American lines. Contact us today for a free estimate.