1. Family memory.
Also, be sure to connect with multiple family members, as memories may be spread thin across many relatives you don’t even know. Use the internet to gather memories passed down through different branches of the family and connect with those who post family trees with familiar-looking branches. The March/April 2012 Family Tree Magazine offers tips for finding and connecting with living relatives.
2 Federal censuses.
“Analyzing each census is critical,” says African-American genealogy expert Deborah A. Abbott (find her on www.genealogicalspeakersguild.org). “Read each entry all the way across. Compare each census to the next one.”
When you’re ready to look for ancestors from pre-Civil War days, you may find yourself using federal censuses in different ways. Enslaved ancestors are described in the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules by gender and age under slave owner name. You may also find yourself tracking the migrations of slaveholding families; however, don’t assume that your black ancestors were enslaved at the time of the Civil War—about 10 percent were not.
3. Vital records.
“Vital records help you connect families generations back,” says Abbott. “They name parents and death dates and the like. But they generally weren’t kept until the late 1800s or early 1900s, and all the states have different rules.”
To get past these record-keeping obstacles, Abbott asks a lot of questions at courthouses and archives, and she leaves herself plenty of time to explore little-used or unindexed resources. Burroughs says he looks for county vital records inventories created by the Historical Records Survey during the Works Progress Administration era of the 1930s and 1940s. These inventories will mention segregated and delayed records. To find them, keyword-search the phrases “historical record survey” or “inventory county archives” plus the name of the state, county or city in the FamilySearch catalog, WorldCat and regional or local libraries. Check to see if titles have been digitized on Google Books or Internet Archive, or are available on microfilm through interlibrary loan or a FamilySearch Center near you.
4. African-American newspapers.
The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website is Pinnick’s go-to source for finding African-American newspapers. Click on US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present; under Ethnicity Press, choose African-American. You’ll find more than 2,100 cataloged titles with details on where to find them on microfilm or in print. Also search for digitized issues or indexes in historical newspaper databases and on library and society websites.
5. Freedmen’s Bureau records.
Consult a full description of surviving records here. Look for a growing number of indexes at The Freedmen’s Bureau Online. Learn more about Freedmen’s Bureau records and Freedman’s Saving and Trust Co. records (see below) in A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors by Franklin Carter Smith and Emily Anne Croom (Genealogical Publishing Co.).
6. Freedman’s Saving and Trust Co. bank records.
Registers of depositors’ signatures for 26 of the original 33 bank branches are available at the National Archives. You can also search them online at HeritageQuest Online and Ancestry.com. Berry encourages researchers to search them even if their ancestor didn’t live in a branch city. “While not every African-American banked with the Freedman’s Bank, maybe their family members did. Perhaps a brother lived near a Freedman’s Bank branch, and he opened an account. He may have provided pertinent information on the family.”