African American Resources for Alabama

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Introduction

Resources for African American research fall into two periods: pre-and post-Civil War. Post-Civil War research consists of consulting the same record types you would use to research non–African Americans. Pre-Civil War records consist of slave importation declarations, plantation records, emancipation records, apprenticeship bonds for freedmen, Alabama hiring practices, census records, plantation owners’ family records, church and cemetery records, military records, and Alabama court records.

Online Resources

Record Collections

Digital Archives

Lists of Sources

Digital Books

Research Strategy

Researching African Americans is often more challenging than researching other groups of people. Start with the present and then work back, one generation at a time. When starting out, first interview relatives, especially older relatives, and survey the records already gathered by others. Oral tradition is an important step because relatives may provide both information on recent generations and clues on where to search next. Additionally, relatives may have journals, newspaper clippings, vital certificates, or other such records of ancestors that may provide essential information and clues. Some crucial records to search for are birth certificates, death certificates, census records, and cemetery records and tombstones. The most difficult parts of African American research are slavery and the decades that followed it. One reason that researching slaves is more difficult than researching other groups of people is because slaves did not have surnames, so the only way to identify them was by who the owner was. Later, segregated schools, inexplicable surnames, and a lack of written or signed contracts became obstacles for genealogists who researched African Americans. Before the abolition of slavery in 1865, almost 250,000 of the 4 million slaves in the southern states were freemen. However, these freemen did not leave much of a paper trail because of fear, illiteracy, and a lack of money. Many had settled in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. [1]

Research guides:

  • Burroughs, Tony. Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide to Tracing the African-American Family Tree. New York: Fireside, 2001.
  • Taylor, Frazine K.Researching African American Genealogy in Alabama: A Resource Guide.Montgomery, Alabama: New South Books. 2008.

History

For a comprehensive history of slavery in Alabama, see:

  • Sellers, James Benson. Slavery in Alabama. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1950, 1994. (Available at the Family History Library, call no. 976.1 F2s) This 426 page book includes a bibliography, on pages 399–409.

To learn more about the Reconstruction Era (1868-1877), visit:

To learn more about the Jim Crow Era (1859-1964), visit:

Resources

Biographies

Several biographical dictionaries, compendia, and histories may contain information you need, for example:

  • Black Biographical Dictionaries, 1790–1950. Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyck-Healy, 1980. FHL fiche 6049870 (first of 1070 films.) This publication is sometimes referred to as "The Black Biography Project." Three of the sources included in this collection are:
  • Bothe, Charles Octavius. The Cyclopedia of the Colored Baptists of Alabama: Their Leaders and Their Work. Birmingham, Alabama: Birmingham Alabama Publishing, 1895. FHL fiche 6078965 [set of 3]. This book contains biographies, birth dates, parents’ names, and sometimes pictures. It also provides information on associations and state conventions.
  • Mixon, Winfield Henri. History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Alabama, with Biographical Sketches. Selma, Alabama: A.M.E. Church Sunday School Union, 1902. (Family History Library FHL fiche 6079113 [set of 3]. This book provides pictures, church minutes and history, and speeches. There is no index.
  • Moorman, Joseph H. and E. L. Barrett. Leaders of the Colored Race in Alabama. Mobile, Alabama: News Publishing, [198–?]. FHL fiche 6079115 [set of 2]. This source contains biographical sketches with birth dates, educational information, a history of each minister’s service, and a history of churches. It includes an index.

Cemeteries

Census Records

The 1866 Alabama State Census lists African Americans. The census is divided into two sections: "White" and "Colored." The census lists the head of household, number of family members in each age category (males and females separated), and family total. The 1866 census is found on Ancestry in the Alabama State Census, 1820-1866 database. See 1866 Census for more information.

Church Records

A few parish registers list slaves who attended church with their masters (see Church Records).

To learn more about historic African American churches in Alabama, see The Cyclopedia of the Colored Baptists of Alabama: Their leaders and their work. Booth, Charles Octavius. Birmingham: Alabama Pub. Co., 1895. (available on Archive.org)

Two churches important to African American history are:

Emancipation Records

Funeral Homes

Genealogies

Land and Property

Slaves are sometimes mentioned in deeds (see Land and Property).

Plantation

Some plantation records mention slaves. The Family History Library has many plantation records on microfilm. These records are described in a series of booklets by Kenneth M. Stampp. Guides for Series A–M are available at the Family History Library:

  • Stampp, Kenneth M., ed. A Guide to Records of Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War: Series A–M, Selections from the Manuscript Department, Duke University Library. Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1986. FHL book 975 H2sm. The Family History Library has microfilms of most of the records described in the guide. Alabama plantation records are scattered throughout.

For example, the booklet for Series F describes records of many plantations in Alabama and other states of the Deep South:

  • Records of Ante-bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War: Series F, Selections from the Manuscript Department, Duke University Library. Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1986–1987. FHL films beginning with 1549774 (first of 84 films.

Oral Histories

Other Records

Military Records

Civil War
Over 10,000 Alabama freedmen served as Union Soldiers as well as in the Confederate Army.

A record was made of men of African descent who served in the Confederate Army:

  • Alabama. Department of Archives and History. Negroes in the Confederate Army, 1860–1907. (Family History Library film 1653243 item 4.) This source lists the name of the soldier and his duty. It may indicate the name of the slave owner, the date of pay, master’s place of residence, where the soldier served in the military, and his military expenses.

World War II
A record was made of naval casualties by state during the war:

  • Combat Connected Naval Causalities, World War II, by States. Two Volumes. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946. FHL book 973 M3dc This source is alphabetically arranged by state, then within the state by dead, missing, wounded, Prisoner of War (POW), died or killed while a POW, and POWs released.

The Tuskegee Airmen were America's first black military aviator group and served in the U.S. army between 1941 and 1946.[2]


See also Alabama Military Records

Newspapers

Probate Records

Slaves are sometimes mentioned in wills (see Probate Records).

Reconstruction Records

Freedman's Bank

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:

Alabama had a branch of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company in Huntsville and Mobile. In each city depositors are listed by account number. The records are in:

  • Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (Huntsville, Alabama), Registers of Signatures of Depositors, 1865–1874. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0816. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1969. Family History Library film 928571
  • Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (Mobile, Alabama). Registers of Signatures of Depositors, 1867–1874. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0816. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1969. Family History Library film 928572
Example of a Freedman's Bank record.

Freedmen's Bureau

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.[3] 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:

Other FamilySearch collections not included:

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

School Records

Slavery Records

One reason that researching slaves is more difficult than researching other groups of people is because slaves did not have surnames, so the only way to identify them was by who the owner was. Later, segregated schools, inexplicable surnames, and a lack of written or signed contracts became obstacles for genealogists who researched African Americans. Before the abolition of slavery in 1865, almost 250,000 of the 4 million slaves in the southern states were freemen. However, these freemen did not leave much of a paper trail because of fear, illiteracy, and a lack of money. Many had settled in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

The Library of Congress has an online exhibit called the African-American Mosaic which has photographs and slave narratives of former slaves in Alabama.

Vital Records

Records of African Americans may be listed as "colored" in birth, marriage and death records. See Alabama Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for those records

Birth

Marriage

The Alabama African American Marriages Project has indexed a large selection of African American marriages in Alabama ranging from the 1800s to the early 1900s. The index is organized by county.

FamilySearch has digitized Alabama Colored Marriage books. These can be found in the Alabama County Marriages, 1809-1950 collection as well on the FamilySearch Catalog on each county page.

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

The Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974 ($) collection is an index of Alabama death certificates. The index includes the deceased's name, age, birth place, death date and place, burial date and place, race, marital status, gender, residences, parents, and parents' birth places.

Divorce

Voting Registers

Archives and Libraries

Alabama Department of Archives and History
P.O. Box 300100 / 624 Washington Ave.
Montgomery, AL 36130
Phone: (334) 242-4435
Website: Alabama Department of Archives and History

J.F. Drake Memorial Learning Resources Center
Alabama A & M University
Box 489
Normal, AL 35762
Phone: (205) 851-5760
Website: J.F. Drake Memorial LRC

Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research
Samford University Library
Samford University 800 Lakeshore Drive
Birmingham, AL 35229
Phone: 205-726-2748
Website: IGHR

Birmingham Public Library: Department of Archives & Manuscripts
Birmingham Public Library
2100 Park Place
Birmingham, Alabama USA 35203
Phone:(205) 226-3631
E-mail: jbaggett@bham.lib.al.us
Website: Department of Archives & Manuscripts

Societies

Black Belt African American Genealogical Historical Society
Website: BBAAGHS

References

  1. Armstrong, Elizabeth. "We are family: Piecing together the past." The Christian Science Monitor, 20 November 2002. https://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1120/p16s01-lign.html (accessed 27 September 2018).
  2. Nancy Henderson, "Tuskegee Airmen," on American Profile, http://americanprofile.com/articles/tuskegee-airmen/, accessed 11 May 2018.
  3. "African American Records: Freedmen's Bureau," "African American Heritage," National Archives, accessed 11 May 2018.