Not sure where to start your African American family history research? Maybe you’ve hit the proverbial genealogy brick wall. Before you search another database hoping for answers, look at the following genealogy resources and finding aids for the records, databases and links to what you will need for your research. The five websites below provide you with research methodology, links to records and repositories, as well as social history that will help you tell the story of your ancestors’ lives.
“AfriGeneas is a site devoted to African American genealogy, to researching African Ancestry in the Americas in particular and to genealogical research and resources in general. It is also an African Ancestry research community featuring the AfriGeneas mail list, the AfriGeneas message boards and daily and weekly genealogy chats.” This website is a must for your research and continuing education. Don’t forget to explore the Records section for databases such as the Death Records Database that includes African American Obituaries, Funeral Programs And Cemetery Records or the Surnames Database and Registry with over 56, 000 African American surnames.
FamilySearch Research Wiki African American Genealogy
FamilySearch is a starting point for most research and the Wiki is your guide. The African American FamilySearch wiki page is a must with its links explaining record types that will help you research your African American genealogy. Don’t forget to explore the Finding Aid links to places like archives and libraries and internet sources for even more resources. This wiki page and its links provide a book-length treatment on African American family history.
American Ancestors – African American Genealogy
American Ancestors, the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has a number of research guides on their website spanning topics from localities to methodology to researching specific groups. Topics addressed in this guide include:
- Reconstruction Era Documents
- Census Records
- Land, Probate, and Account Records
- Manumission Documents
- Free African Americans
- Church Records
- American Indian Connections
- Caribbean Ancestry
- Military Service
- Manuscripts Collections at NEHGS
Don’t forget to watch the video available on this guide, African American Resource at NEHGS. In this presentation, Meaghan E.H. Siekman provides tips on research and resources that are available to researchers in and outside of NEHGS.
Lastly, don’t forget about NEHGS’s GU272 Memory Project documenting the enslaved at Georgetown University and their descendants.
The Library of Congress Journey Into Your Past: African American Genealogy Resources
You might already be aware of the WPA interview collection available in the Library of Congress Digital Collections website Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938 < > but make sure that you also check out the LOC guide on African American Genealogy Resources for links to other important resources such as the African American History Online: A Resource Guide and the African-American Experience in Ohio . Overall there aren’t many resources on this Library of Congress page but the resources you find here go beyond genealogy and help you to add social history to your family story.
National Archives – African American Research
It seems fitting that if I’m going to point out resources from the nation’s library that I also point out the resources of the nation’s archive. The National Archives African American Research page features highlights from their collections, exhibits, videos, and articles. Make sure to scroll down to see a list of online resources that are genealogically relevant such as the Freedmen Records Bureau and African Americans in the military, and Black Family Research: Records of Post-Civil War Federal Agencies at the National Archives. Relevant History Hub posts can also be found on this web page and I would recommend that you seek out the History Hub for other research questions and answers.
Lastly, I’m a huge fan of the now defunct Prologue magazine. Some of their genealogical articles are still online at the National Archives website. Make sure to read the African American articles for tutorials on research. Some of these articles include:
- Special Issue on African American Research and Federal Records (Summer 1997)
- The Rejection of Elizabeth Mason: The Case of a "Free Colored" Revolutionary Widow (Summer 2011) - The rejection and appeals in a pension file shed light on African American participation in the Revolutionary War.
- Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony: Freedmen's Bureau Marriage Records (Spring 2005) - A state-by-state look at marriage licenses, certificates, registers, and reports in federal records that document marriages of former slave couples.
- Researching African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866–1890: Buffalo Soldiers and Black Infantrymen (Spring 2001) - How to find the military records of African American soldiers who served in the late 19th-century.
Five websites, hundreds of links and tips. What have you found using these guides? What are your go to websites and resources for African American research? Share them in the comments.