African Americans in the 1867 Voter Registration Lists (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Research: African American Ancestors by Michael Hait, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
When discussing the Civil War, many people understand that the Confederate states seceded as a definitive act, but how these states returned to the Union is often ignored. Part of the process of readmittance to the United States involved affirming U.S. law—including the abolition of slavery and the voting rights of African American men. In order to do this, the former Confederate states would have to hold constitutional conventions to pass new state constitutions. A constitutional convention could only be called by popular vote. On 23 March 1867 the U.S. Congress passed “An Act supplementary to an Act entitled ‘An Act to provide for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States,’ passed March second, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and to facilitate Restoration” (40 Stat. 2). The first clause of this act required that, by 1 September 1867, each district would register all male citizens of the United States over the age of twenty-one years that were qualified to vote. In most states, this voter registration constitutes the earliest record containing information about newly-freed African American men.
The voter registration records contain the following information:
- Time of residence in the state, in the county, and in the precinct;
- Place of nativity;
- When and where naturalized;
The quality of the evidence varies from state to state, county to county, precinct to precinct. In some cases, the time of residence is universally recorded as “twelve months” and the place of nativity is no more specific than “United States.” In other cases the time of residence can be used to determine a precise migration time, and the place of nativity identifies the place of origin. These two factors can help you identify antebellum migration routes. African American families enslaved prior to the Civil War did not have the right to move about on their own. Certainly some families escaped, but these are the minority. For most families antebellum migration routes for enslaved families indicate antebellum migration routes for their slave owners. These voter registration lists, if nothing else, may provide the necessary evidence.
Unfortunately the lists do not survive for every state. Most of the surviving lists are held by their respective state archives, and many have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Use the FamilySearch Library catalog to check the availability. In addition to these, the Alabama records have been digitized on the website of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The Texas records are available on Ancestry.com.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: African American Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.