Use these seven expert-recommended resources for locating your African-American ancestors.
It’s no secret that tracing African-American roots can be a challenge. Before the Civil War, the enslaved were excluded from many public records and mentioned only vaguely in others; enforced illiteracy kept many people from writing their stories; and the forward flow of family memory was disrupted when children were sold away from parents. After the Civil War, some memories were just too painful to pass along. In addition, record-keeping issues persisted: African-Americans were often segregated in records as blatantly as they were on buses and in theaters. Those segregated records aren’t always as easy to access as mainstream ones.
In recent decades, however, researchers have learned ways around some of these obstacles. One important strategy is to learn all you can about your recent generations first. The more you know about these relatives, the more likely you are to recognize your shared ancestors in the record-keeping of the American slavery era. Leading researchers share their seven go-to sources for tracing your post-Civil War African-American ancestry.
1. Family memory.
“Family memory is always your most important source,” says Tony Burroughs
, professional genealogist and author of Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree (Fireside). “If you don’t go to your family first and often, you will have problems all the way down the road.”