Resources for African American Research

Alonzo’s Guide

for African American Research

Why? Because your research can hit a wall at the 1870 census!

Research into the past lives of African Americans can present challenges due to the institution of slavery. Because slavery classified people of African ancestry as property and livestock instead of as people, census records can be spotty at best when it comes to tracing the family lines of particular individuals. Records are much more difficult to find due to the scant nature of record keeping for blacks prior to the Civil War. This is because in US Census records, from 1790-1840, only the names of the white heads of households were listed, along with the number of slaves and “free persons of color.” In 1850 and 1860, the Federal government took a supplemental slave census. This schedule gave the slave owner’s name, and the number of slaves by gender, age, and a designation of black or mulatto. The names of all free blacks were included in the 1850 and 1860 census. Beginning in 1870, the census listed the names of all African Americans.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database at has information on more than 35,000 slave voyages that forcibly embarked over 12 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. It offers researchers, students, and the general public a chance to rediscover the reality of one of the largest forced movements of peoples in world history.

A rich source for beginning your search is the American Ancestors by New England Historic Genealogical Society website at including links to:

  • Reconstruction Era Documents
  • Freedmen Bureau Records
  • Census Records
  • Land, Probate, and Account Records
  • Manumission Documents
  • Church Records
  • Black and American Indian Connections
  • Caribbean Ancestry
  • Military Records

Links for the “US—Freedmen’s Bureau” project listing can be found at

Another good resource to start your search for Free African Americans is Paul Heinegg’s website, “ Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware.” The site compiled information from tax lists, registry lists, wills, deeds, and other records on free African Americans prior to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Another full source is African American and General genealogy websites is the list at:

AfriGeneas at is described as the granddaddy of African-American genealogy sites.  There are more than 30 forums to post messages, including Slave Research, Caribbean Research and Free Persons of Color. You can find the site on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. The interactive Guide for Beginners lays out the basics of black-genealogy research on the Internet.

Another excellent resource is the University of North Carolina’s site of North American Slave Narratives:

Christine Charity’s site Christine’s Genealogy Website at updates visitors with the latest in African-American genealogy, with links to news stories and contributions from researchers. Check the site often for updated Searchable Data and Transcribed Data.

Cyndi Howells has compiled thousands of genealogy-related links on her mega-site since 1996.  See Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet (African American Category at

For a more regional resource be sure to check out Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware: Creator Paul Heinegg describes the site this way: “The history of the free African American community as told through the family history of most African Americans who were free in the Southeast during the colonial period.” It contains the content of two books that chronicle family histories based on microfilm materials available at the archives of those five states. Visit the site at

HeritageQuest Online at is described as “a comprehensive treasury of American genealogical sources — rich in unique primary sources, local and family histories, and finding aids,” this site provides free access through most public libraries to the census, Freedman’s Bank records, the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), genealogy and local history books, Revolutionary War records and the LexisNexis U.S. Serial Set. Contact your local library to see if you can access the site with your library card number.

Lowcountry Africana: Research is limited to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The site has its own freestanding research aids, including a custom search engine, an online research library, videos, articles about research methods, and search capabilities for user-submitted documents. Note: As of this posting the site appears to be hacked. Do a Google search of “Lowcountry Africana” first to see if you get a message that the site appears to be hacked. If so wait until the message disappears before entering it.

African American Records at contains many useful and interesting resources such as Pre-Civil War Records. African American historical research can be undertaken in both military and civilian records; however, the documentation is scattered through a variety of correspondence of government and private citizens and government reports. One’s success in researching African-American ancestry in the years prior to the Civil War will depend largely on what one’s status was, slave or free. Slave records are difficult to locate and found rarely at NARA.

The links at provide another great online source of African American genealogy.

But wait; there’s more!

When you’re ready for a road trip or want to gather more local finds, please be sure to visit the African American Museums Listings at

Want to see what you’re made of?

DNA Testing Resources

If you want to find out the percentage of African ancestry in black Americans, there are resources to help.  You can find out your regional genetic composition via the following companies which offer admixture tests:

More Resources (not just African American)

Thanks to the students of Ms. Phillips and Ms Reynolds of The After School Care Program for recommending we add the following resources to our page!  

History at Home: A Guide to Genealogy

by Andrea Davis

Get started on your own genealogy with these resources:

  • Basic Genealogy: This article outlines the core principles of genealogical research and sources of information.
  • Starting Your Genealogy Research: The USGenWeb Project offers step-by-step instructions with links to useful tools and a list of common research mistakes.
  • Top Ten Tips for Starting Your Family History: Try one or more of these tips to break into genealogy.
  • Be a Family History Detective: The PBS show History Detective Special Investigations solves historical mysteries, and this article shares their detective techniques for finding family history clues.
  • Genealogy 101: Family History and More: This article introduces methods for collecting and organizing family research and ways to improve these skills.
  • Ancestry Charts and Forms: Download an ancestral pedigree chart, a family group sheet, and other forms to organize genealogical research.
  • Genealogy Research in Military Records: The National Archives site offers many resources for genealogists, and this article is a guide for researching military records.
  • Personnel Records, Muster Rolls, and Genealogical Research: The U.S. Coast Guard explains how to access service records for officers, enlisted and civilian personnel, and lighthouse keepers.
  • Researching Individual Immigrant Records: Finding the right immigration and nationality records is simplified by this outline of dates and resources from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Genealogical Research Tips: The U.S. Department of Interior explains how to begin a search for ancestors, with a special emphasis on Native American genealogy.
  • Genealogical Research at the Library of Congress (PDF): This article describes what type of research genealogists should do before going to the Library of Congress and what resources they can expect to find in its Local History and Genealogy Reading Room.
  • Ellis Island Immigration Records: Information on millions of ship passengers arriving at Ellis Island and the Port of New York can be accessed through this site: Just click the blue “Passenger Search” button in the upper right corner.
  • Compiling a Family Medical History: The Mayo Clinic identifies the health reasons for knowing three generations of your family history.
  • Learning About Genetic Health: This article details specific medical problems that can be affected by genetics and family history.
  • What is Genealogy?: The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation merges traditional genealogy with DNA to find more connections in the family tree.
  • Public Health Genomics: Frequently Asked Questions: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers advice on topics such as how adoptees can locate information and how knowing family history can lower one’s health risk.
  • The Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the majority of Americans do not have a record of their family’s health history, and they can begin to create that record by accessing the My Family Health Portrait Tool on this site.
  • Using Maps in Genealogy (PDF): Maps are an important tool in tracing the movement of a family, and the U.S. Geological Survey discusses how to use maps, the best types of maps, and where to find them.
  • Take a Genealogy Quiz: Have a little fun and test your family research knowledge.
  • Oral History Interview, Questions, and Topics: This is a list of 83 questions that can be used to generate a family history interview.
  • Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History: Check out a comprehensive outline of the process of planning and recording an interview, including tips on how to ask questions, pinpointing problems, and self-evaluation.
  • Genealogy and Homestead Records (PDF): The National Park Service put together this useful guide to researching land records that pertain to the family tree.
  • Ten Things You May Not Know About the Roosevelts:This fascinating article about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt highlights some of the very things a genealogist looks for: interesting relatives, a marriage certificate, and juicy family stories.
  • Family History Research: This introductory guide includes cautions for wise use of the Internet, verifying information, and respecting the privacy of relatives.
  • Caring for Your Family Papers (PDF): Historical documents can be fragile, and this article gives practical advice for preserving photos, papers, and books.
  • Family Business: How You Find It and How You Keep It: This expansive article covers surname origins, cemetery searches and how to take an impression of a gravestone, the difference between primary and secondary sources, African American and Native American genealogy resources, and more.
  • History of Genealogy and Family History: An explanation of the British tradition of recorded genealogies and the development of family history societies can be found here.
  • How to Trace A House Genealogy: Knowing the history of a home can yield clues to the families that occupied it, and this guide demonstrates how to track down the information.
  • Preserving Your Photographs: Windows to the Past (PDF): The curator of sound and visual collections at the Minnesota Historical Society gives advice on how to identify and store photos.
  • Preservation of Artifacts: Discover the factors that can damage historical memorabilia, and learn how to preserve textiles, paper, photos, and items made of metal, leather, or wood.

Read more:

Also check out the general information on Genealogy at:

UPDATED: May 15, 2019

Genetic Resources for Pregnancy

Safe & Healthy Pregnancy Resources


Comments are closed.