Are you having a hard time trying to find your African American ancestors when performing an LDS family search? Well finding your ancestors may not be easy but it is possible, you simply need to know where to look. Information on your African American ancestors will be held in some common and also some that may not be so common records; it’s all about how and where you do your searching. Researching your ancestors through means such as an LDS family search can at times seem daunting, you will find that finding your ancestors in the American census which holds records from 1870-1940 quite simple. However if you are trying to find information about ancestors that may have been slaves during this period then you will find this search a little more difficult. Some of the challenges that you will be faced with will be identifying the owners of the slaves, tracing slaves where you only have their first name to work with and also the scarcity of records regarding slaves that is available to you.
Thankfully every African Americans was initially enumerated in the 1870 U.S Census, but finding ancestors that were newly freed during reconstruction will be more challenging, especially between the years of 1865- 1869. There are a number of resources that you can use to your advantage when it comes to tracing your African American ancestors. At the end of the civil war the American census of 1870 was the first census that counted all African Americans including those that were previously slaves. Looking for information from as little as a year before in 1869 may seem impossible due to the lack of records available. One way that can help fill in the gaps from 1869 is with the use of marriage records, this is because after the civil war slaves were allowed by law to marry, you should start by checking county records between the years 1866 and 1869. The majority of marriage bonds will give the names of the bride, groom, witnesses, bondsmen and the county in which the bond was filed along with the date. If the marriage bond is also accompanied by a marriage certificate then the recorded information may also include name of the person who performed the marriage, the date of the marriage and possibly the names of the parents.
Another particularly useful resource that you can use to trace your African American ancestors is city directories. City directories can be most useful when it comes to tracing your ancestors during periods between censuses as they hold the records of each household from year to year. A lot African Americans moved during the time between censuses, approximately 6 million moved to the North from the south during what was known as the great migration which took place between 1910 and 1930 and then around 5 million moved again during 1940 – 1970. Using the city directories for the years between the censuses will help you identify when a family moved as well as providing you with additional information. When you are using these city directories you will see that many African Americans are listed as (col) for coloured or (Neg) for Negro they will include additional information including place of work, occupation and spouses names. The directories can also assist you in working out a date of death if you find a record stating that a wife lives alone it may record that she is a widow, this would normally be recorded in the year after her husband’s death so if you see the term (wid) then you know that in some time during the previous year of this directory that persons husband died.
Around 179,000 black men served in the U.S army with a further 19,000 serving in the Navy, this makes military records extremely valuable when it comes to researching your African American ancestors. You should start your search with pension and service records, if any of your ancestors were enlisted in the Coloured Troops of the U.S army and also collected a pension then you could find a host of valuable information such as family member’s names, a detailed physical description of the soldier and a date of death of the soldier. Service records as well as pension records would include a physical description of the soldier.
Another way of tracing down your African American ancestors is by checking race specific records, search county records that have sections that identify individuals by race. In example free black people in most circumstances needed to hold a record of manumission (freedom statement) which would be held on file in the county in which they resided. Free blacks can also be identified by race in state and county records.
Finally another great resource that you should not overlook in the search for African American ancestors is social media. New details and records are constantly being researched, logged and recorded. Search for state, county, slave and other records that are relevant to where the ancestor that you are researching lived. You should also search websites and blogs that are relevant to your ancestral research for update, many blog sites will allow you to subscribe via email so that you are emailed automatically whenever anything new is posted.
If you don’t already have one then you should consider setting up a twitter account, there are hundreds of genealogists registered on twitter who regularly post updates about relevant genealogical information. When you are using twitter you should make good use of the hash tag feature (#) to help you find relevant topics such as #African American, #Genealogy and #genealogy websites.
Tracing your African American may seem challenging but if you make use of these five resources you will be in a great position to further your research.