African American Resources for Pennsylvania

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

  • 1846-1867 U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records, 1846-1867 at Ancestry ($)
  • 1861-1872 United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1861-1872 at FamilySearch
  • 1865-1874 Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874 at FamilySearch
  • African American Digital Bookshelf - a growing list of digital books on FamilySearch and other websites
  • Discover Freedmen - this site searches all of the Freedmen's Bureau record collections on FamilySearch altogether (and redirects there)
  • Documenting our Past: The Teenie Harris Archive Project
  • Free at Last? Slavery in Pittsburgh in the 18th and 19th Centuries
  • Research Strategy[edit | edit source]

    History[edit | edit source]

    An important history is Edward Raymond Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania: Slavery-Servitude-Freedom, 1639-1861 (New York, NY: Negro Universities Press, 1969; FHL book 974.8 F2t. It includes an extensive bibliography.

    See also:

    • Charles L. Blockson, African Americans in Pennsylvania: A History and Guide(Baltimore, Maryland.: A DuForcel book published by Black Classic Press, 1994); FHL book 974.8 F2bL.
    • Blockson, Charles L. African Americans in Pennsylvania: Above ground and underground, an illustrated guide. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: RB Books; Seitz and Seitz, Inc., c 2001 FHL 974.8F2bl 2001
    • Blockson, Charles L.ed. by Louise D. Stone. Pennsylvania's Black History. Philadelphia: portfolio Associates, 1975. E185.93.P41 B56
    • The Present State and Condition of the Free People of Color of the City of Philadelphia and Adjoining Districts, As Exhibated by the Report of a Committee of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Aboliation of Slavery. Read First Month (Jan) 5th, 1836, Philadelphia: Published by the Society, 1836. Google Books.

    Online resources:

    A potential source for information about individuals is Pennsylvania Abolition Society (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Manumissions and Indentures, ca. 1780-1840, Arranged by Name of Master or Slaveholder FHL films 1731983 (first of 7 films). Records are from various eastern states, including New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Georgia, and Virginia.

    Resources[edit | edit source]

    Biographies[edit | edit source]

    Cemeteries[edit | edit source]

    Census Records[edit | edit source]

    The "septennial" census (see Pennsylvania Census), beginning in 1800, often listed the name, age, and sex of slaves and the names of slave owners.

    Church Records[edit | edit source]

    Emancipation Records[edit | edit source]

    Funeral Homes[edit | edit source]

    Genealogies[edit | edit source]

    Land and Property[edit | edit source]

    Plantation[edit | edit source]

    Oral Histories[edit | edit source]

    Other Records[edit | edit source]

    Military Records[edit | edit source]

    Newspapers[edit | edit source]

    Probate Records[edit | edit source]

    Reconstruction Records[edit | edit source]

    Freedman’s Bank[edit | edit source]

    An excellent source is the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (visit the African American Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Records page to learn more). This company was created to assist African American soldiers of the Civil War and freed slaves. Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company signature cards or registers from 3 March 1865 to 25 July 1874 may list the name of the depositor, date of entry, age, birthplace, residence, complexion, name of employer or occupation, wife or husband’s name, death information, children’s names, name of father and mother, brothers’ and sisters’ names, remarks, and signature. Early books sometimes contained the name of the former master or mistress and the name of the plantation. Copies of death certificates were sometimes attached to the entries. The collection is organized alphabetically by state, then city where the bank was located, then date the account was established, then account number.

    Online collections of Freedman's Bank records:

    Freedmen's Bureau[edit | edit source]

    The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was created by the US government in 1865 until 1872 to assist former slaves in the southern United States. The Bureau created a wide variety of records extremely valuable to genealogists. Such documents include censuses, marriage records, and medical records. These records often include full names, former masters and plantations, and current residences.[1] For 1865 and 1866, the section on abandoned and confiscated lands includes the names of the owners of the plantations or homes that were abandoned, confiscated, or leased. It gives the county and location, a description of the house, the number of acres owned, and the number of cabins of former slaves. These films do not appear to contain the names of former slaves. To find Freedmen's Bureau records:

    • More collections are available in the FamilySearch Catalog. Search for "FREEDMEN - PENNSYLVANIA" in the Subjects search bar to find.

    Visit the African American Freedmen's Bureau Records page to learn more about utilizing these records.

    School Records[edit | edit source]

    Slavery Records[edit | edit source]

    Pennsylvania began the gradual emancipation of slaves in 1780. Slaves are sometimes mentioned in deeds, in wills, in tax records, and in court order books. A few parish registers (Pennsylvania Church Records) list slaves who attended church with their masters.

    At the taking of the 1790 Census, ironmasters were the largest slave owners in Pennsylvania counties where charcoal and iron were produced: Berks, Chester, Montgomery, Lancaster, Dauphin and York.[2]

    The "septennial" census (see Pennsylvania Census), beginning in 1800, often listed the name, age, and sex of slaves and the names of slave owners.

    Vital Records[edit | edit source]

    Birth[edit | edit source]

    Marriage[edit | edit source]

    The Freedmen's Bureau (1865-1872) was created by the US government to assist former slaves in the southern United States. One of their responsibilities was to record the marriages (past and present) of the former slaves. These records can be found in the collections below and include the lists of marriages that occurred previously, marriage certificates, and marriage licenses. The information contained on the records may include the name of the husband and wife/groom and bride, age, occupation, residence, year or date of marriage, by whom, number of children, and remarks.

    Death[edit | edit source]

    Divorce[edit | edit source]

    Voting Registers[edit | edit source]

    Archives and Libraries[edit | edit source]

    Pennsylvania State Archives
    801 North 3rd Street
    Harrisburg, PA 17102
    Phone: (717) 783-3281

    A brief but helpful reference to sources at the State Archives is David McBride, The Afro-American in Pennsylvania: A Critical Guide to Sources in the Pennsylvania State Archives (Harrisburg, PA.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1979); FHL book 974.8 A1, no. 199.

    African American Museum in Philadelphia
    701 Arch Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19106
    Phone: (215) 574-0380

    Central Pennsylvania African American Museum
    119 N. 10th Street
    Reading, PA 19560
    Phone: (610) 371-8713

    Societies[edit | edit source]

    References[edit | edit source]

    1. "African American Records: Freedmen's Bureau," "African American Heritage," National Archives, accessed 11 May 2018.
    2. Joseph E. Walker, "Negro Labor in Charcoal Iron Industry of Southeastern Pennsylvania," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 93, No. 4 (Oct. 1969):467. For free online access, see WeRelate.