Much of what we know about early African Americans comes from records. Such records are very valuable for tracing African American roots. By searching them and using additional sources, you can learn intimate details of the lives of your ancestors. The following three famous African Americans have records that can be found on FamilySearch.org. Read on to learn more about these individuals—Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Carver — or learn how to find their records, and how to use those techniques to find your family.
Harriet Tubman (Araminta Ross)
Harriet Tubman, born Araminta (Minty) Ross, played a significant role in the American struggle to abolish slavery.
Harriet was born a slave in the early 1820s, well before emancipation. Her childhood was severely challenging, and she suffered greatly at the hands of cruel masters. In her late 20s she escaped slavery in Philadelphia. She returned and risked recapture many times to lead others to freedom as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Because of her success as a conductor, she was known as “Moses.”
Though Harriet never learned to read or write, we know many things about her life from two biographies written by Sarah Hopkins Bradford, a writer and historian who knew Harriet personally.
When the Civil War broke out, Harriet offered her services as a cook, nurse, and spy to the Union army. As an expert scout, familiar with nighttime travel, she recruited friends who reported Confederate troop movements. She became the first African American woman to guide an armed assault by a regiment of black Union soldiers in the Civil War in South Carolina. In her later life, records show influential friends worked to win a pension for Harriet for her war-time service.
We know a great deal about Frederick Douglass because he wrote several autobiographies. We also know he vigorously promoted his political views. His papers are part of the Library of Congress collections.
As a young boy, Frederick was introduced to reading and quickly grasped that education could be a road to freedom. He gained an education through his own initiative. It opened his eyes to the moral indefensibility of slavery.
After several failed attempts, Frederick succeeded in escaping bondage. He became a national leader in the abolitionist movement. Records from Genealogy Bank’s Historical Newspaper Archives add insight to Frederick Douglass’s fame and prominence as an orator, social reformer, and statesman.
Frederick Douglass continues to generate both admiration and controversy, but in the details of his life we see he was both human and relatable.
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver became one of the most well-known plant scientists of his day. He taught and researched alternative crops and crop rotation techniques that improved the diets of poor southern farmers and replenished soil depleted from years of cotton cultivation.
In 1922 George wrote a brief sketch of his life. George was the son of a slave named Mary on the farm of Moses Carver in Diamond Grove, Missouri, shortly before slavery was outlawed.
As an infant, George, along with his mother and sister, was kidnapped by outlaws and taken to be resold. George’s brother James was led to safety, and Moses Carver was able to secure George’s release through the help of a neighbor. George never saw his mother or sister again. His father, Giles, had died in an accident before George was born.
George and his brother were raised in the home of Moses and Susan Carver. They sent him to an all-black school some distance away. He achieved a Masters’ degree in agricultural science, and at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, he went to Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for his entire career.
The story of George Washington Carver is integral to Tuskegee Institute, where he had his laboratory and experimental farm. It is a human story that mirrors many lesser-known individuals who worked to better their circumstances before and after emancipation.
If You Are Searching
Genealogical research for African American ancestors, whoever they are, can be challenging. Records found on FamilySearch and other reliable sites can be a huge help. Within records, it is possible to find personal details that bring life to family connections from the past up to the present.