Black History Month was established in the US in 1926.
For many black families with roots in the Southern states, genealogy research can be frustrating. Although African American genealogy research can get back to the 1880s. It is difficult for most to follow a trail back to an earlier time.
Every day more resources are available online. If you cannot find what you are looking for today, check again tomorrow or next week.
Southern records do exist, although prior to Emancipation, records of birth, marriages and deaths are rare. Slave owners didn't usually keep these records. Records for free blacks also exist. Some researchers have been successful in finding useful records of sale, land, personal property and the wills of white owners.
In 1867, blacks were required to adopt last names, although some slaves adopted family names earlier. Some took the names of their owners, but there were no restrictions on what names could be adopted.
Like most ethnic groups in the US, names were not exactly permanent. Spellings would change and the names themselves might change several times before settling into a more permanent form.
After being freed, black families were usually too poor to have land or personal property, and many remained as sharecroppers on the plantations of their former owners. Thus, there are few land or estate records with which to trace them. The poorer the families, the fewer the records.
It is hard for most blacks to use a paper trail to trace their ancestry to a specific part of Africa. Slaves came from all parts of Africa, but those of different tribes were mixed together when shipped from various ports. DNA research is being conducted by Henry Louis Gates to trace African origins to a specific area. Some researchers have found that their DNA tests returned European genetic markers.
For more on DNA testing for African Americans, read the articles here
Use MyHeritage Smart Research to access indexes for many free and subscription sites - all at one click. However, you will need to have a subscription to see the document images. Be aware that many US public libraries offer free access to paid subscription services, so check your public library/
On Ancestry.com, begin at African American History, and find information on these databases:
1870 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule): The first census listing former slaves by name and age.
Colored Troops Military Service Records (1861-1865)
Freedmen’s Marriage Records (1861-1869)
Freedman's Bank Records:Nearly 180,000 names of depositors of Freedman's Savings and Trust, which served thousands of African-American former slaves (1865-1874) throughout the Southern States.
Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices (1865-1872): covering District of Columbia, Georgia, North Carolina, New Orleans, Florida, Virginia and Tennessee.
Slave Registers of Former British Colonial Dependencies (1812-1834)
Southern Claims Master Index (1871-1880)
Southern Claims Commission Allowed Claims (1871-1880)
Southern Claims Commission Disallowed and Barred Claims (1871-1880)
On Footnote.com, find
Southern Claims Commission Records: Some 20,000 compensation claim petitions for damage, crops, livestock and other assets seized by Union troops during the Civil War. Many records record the testimony of African American witnesses.
For more information, see this previous January 2008 post at the MyHeritage Genealogy Blog
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