African American Introduction

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United States  > African American Research  > Research

African-American genealogical research for recent years follows the same procedures as for any other ethnic group. However, there are specific strategies for tracing African-American roots prior to 1870. Most of the records are available through the Family History Library and through FamilySearch.

Research Guides and Source Lists. For guides to African American family history research, see

The following records can help determine if an ancestor was born free or freed by slave owner.

For records of the Underground Railroad, go to: and

To make a slave connection, you must first identify the slave owner, and then study the owner’s records for clues to family information. About 15 percent of former slaves took their last slave owner’s surname. Sources for identifying the slave owner include Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations From the Revolution Through the Civil War : Series A through N (film nos. 1,534,196 through 1,534,236), and military records at:

The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Records include birthplace, place brought up, residence, age, complexion, name of employer or occupation, spouse, children, father, mother, brothers and sisters, remarks, and signature. These records are found in Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865—1874 (film nos. 928,571 through 928,591). An additional guide for Freedmen’s Bureau field office records is Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands: Record Group 105 by Elaine Everly and Willna Pacheli (book 973 F23ea). Part 1 includes Alabama and Louisiana, Part 2 includes Maryland and South Carolina, and Part 3 includes Tennessee and Virginia. Some of the Freedmen’s Bureau records are available online at:

Another helpful source of information for locating African-American ancestors is the Records of the Commissioners of Claims 1871—1880 (film nos. 1,463,963 through 1,463,987). Nearly 22,300 cases are filed by individual names, family groups, churches, and businesses. Records include testimony of neighbors, relatives, and former slaves to support a claimant’s assertions, taken during the Civil War because of loyalty to the Union. A master index to these case files is found in Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission by Gary B. Mills (book 975 M2s).

There are also more than 3,500 typescript pages of interviews with former slaves found in A Comprehensive Name Index for the American Slave by Howard E. Potts (book 973 F22p). The narratives can be searched for free at the Library of Congress' Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project:

The following guidebooks and histories are available at the Family History Library:

  • Black Genealogy: How To Begin by James D. Walker (book 973 F26w),

Black roots : a beginners guide to tracing the African American family tree  Burroughs, Tony  973 D27 bt FHL US/Can books

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