African American Census

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African American Genealogy Wiki Topics
African American Image 5.jpg
Beginning Research
Original Records
Compiled Sources
Background Information
Finding Aids

Introduction[edit | edit source]

In Census records, from 1790-1840, only names of the head of household were provided, along with the number of slaves and "free persons of color." In 1850 and 1860, the Federal government took a supplemental slave census, giving the slave owner's name, and the number of slaves by gender, age, and a designation of black or mulatto. The names of all free blacks were included in the 1850 and 1860 census. Beginning in 1870, the census listed the names of all African Americans.

Local Census and County Records State census records, school census records, town census records, deeds, bills of sale, marriage records, county will books and probate records sometimes lists names of slaves, and other genealogy information.

African-American genealogical research can be challenging, especially after you hit the brick wall of the 1870 census. There are, however, more and more ways to get over that wall and more resources to learn the techniques for doing so.

Included here are some of the best the Internet has to offer, as well as some searchable census sites of particular interest for African-Americans:

AfriGeneas, an outstanding resource and recommended starting point for "African Ancestored Genealogy," includes a beginner's guide, slave data, surnames, links, state and worldwide resources, newsletter, library, and a mailing list:

AfriGeneas's census schedules online:

Christine's African American Genealogy Website, an excellent resource for roots-seekers, includes links to a variety of genealogical sources and African American homepages:

Christine's Genealogy Website's census links for African-Americans:

Linda Ball's Ebony Ethnics site:

African-American Genealogy Ring, dedicated to genealogists who are researching African-American family histories:'s list of links for African-American research:

Researching Your African-American Roots by Christine Sievers:

Family Tree Maker's articles(look under "African American Research" and the first topic under "Product Reviews"):

Cliff Murray's African American Lifelines' site to help inspire you and help you get over those brick walls in your research:

  • Wall, Mildred Eugenia. The Locationa and Distribution of the Free Negro Population in the Old South. M.A. Thesis, Duke university, 1945.

Slave Narratives. For autobiographical sketches of former slaves see:

Another useful website with links to the census by state:

Use census records to:

  • Learn the names of family members during a census year
  • Learn an ancestor's town or county of residence (This leads to other records, such as vital records of a town or county.)
  • Find a state of birth for an ancestor and their parents

Census Records[edit | edit source]

Content[edit | edit source]

1870 1880 1900 1910 1920 1930
Names of all household members



Birth month and year


Birthplace (state)

Birthplace of parents (state)
Marital status (single, married, widowed, or divorced)
Number of children born to mother and number still living


Relationship to head of household
Residence (town and county)

Searching Census Records[edit | edit source]

Before searching census records you must know:

  • The name of the head of household (usually the father). If the father is not listed, search for the mother. (For the 1880 and 1930 censuses, you can search for any name - father, mother, or child.)
  • The state where the family lived. Most indexes cover only one state.

Census records are accessible at:

  • Family History Library and family history centers
  • National Archives (see for addresses of regional branches)
  • State archives
  • University libraries and some large public libraries

Tips[edit | edit source]

  • When using the 1870 census, look for the second filming, which is usually easier to read. In the FamilySearch Catalog, the Film Notes that describe each census film will state (1st) or (2nd) in the description.
  • The 1890 census was destroyed.
  • Search for your family in every available census to find additional children, inlaws, grandparents, and other members of a changing household.
  • When you find your family, photocopy the whole census page or ask your family history center for a form to copy census information.
  • To to privacy laws, U.S. census records are opened to the public 70 years after they are taken.

Census Record Indexes[edit | edit source]

Use census indexes to:

  • Quickly learn where an ancestor can be found in a census
  • Quickly find almost any ancestor and where they lived (if there is an every-name, national index, such as the 1880 and 1930 U.S. Census Indexes)

Content[edit | edit source]

Census index content varies according to the index being used:

  • Most indexes contain minimal information, such as a county or enumeration district, a town or ward, and a page number where your ancestor can be found in the census.
  • Some indexes contain expanded information about heads of households.
  • A few every-name indexes contain extensive information about all household members and their neighbors.

Searching Census Indexes[edit | edit source]

Before searching a census index you should know:

  • The name of the ancestor or the name of the head of household (for head-of-household indexes)
  • The state where the ancestor lived at the time of the census (helpful, but not essential for national indexes)
  • The Soundex code (for Soundex indexes) for the ancestor's surname (see the following paragraph on "Soundex Indexes")

Census indexes are located at:

  • The Family History Library and family history centers
  • Internet
  • National Archives (see for addresses of regional branches)
  • State archives
  • University libraries and some large public libraries

The following resources are also helpful:

1870 Census Indexes

African Americans in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Heritage Quest, 2001. (FHL CD-ROM 388.) Use this index to find:

  • African American heads of households
  • Males over 50
  • Females over 70
  • Household members with a different surname than the head of the household
  • A family's town, county, and state of residence

Accelerated Indexing Systems (AIS) Microfiche Indexes of U.S. Census and Other Records, Ronald Vern Jackson, 1988. (FHL book 973 A3ai.) Use this index to find the heads of household from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Dakota Territory, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, and Wyoming.

This resource can be accessed at the Family History Library and many family history centers (ask for help to find where the fiche are kept).

Another index can be accessed at Use this index to find heads of households for all states and links to the 1870 census images. The site charges a fee ($).

1880 Census Indexes

The 1880 U.S. Census includes names, dates, and places for nearly 6 million African Americans. The 1880 U.S. census index can be accessed at This is the best index to the 1880 census. Use this index to:

  • Find almost anyone listed in the 1880 census (It lists all members of the household.)
  • Locate ancestors when you do not know their state of residence (This index covers the entire United States; most indexes cover one state only.)

There is a CD-ROM version of the 1880 census index that can be ordered by calling the Church distribution center at 801-240-2800. It can also be accessed by going to and clicking Order/Download Products. You can then print it from your personal computer.

1900-1930 Census Indexes

To use the 1900 census Soundex indexes see the following paragraph on "Soundex Indexes."

Soundex Indexes[edit | edit source]

The Soundex indexes are used to learn where an ancestor can be found in a census. Soundex indexes list surnames by Soundex code. This code groups surnames by sound, not exact spelling. For example, the surnames Stewart, Stuart, and Steward have the same Soundex code and appear together in the index.

Converting a Surname to a Soundex Code[edit | edit source]

There is an online name converter on the Internet. This is the quickest way to convert a surname to a Soundex code. Go to Click Genealogy, and then click Yet Another Soundex Converter.

Steps To Do It Yourself

Instructions Examples Ancestor's Surname
1. Write the family surname in the far right
column of this chart, but omit the letters H and
W if they are not the first letter.

2. Write the first letter of the surname in the first blank. ASCROFT = A-_ _ _
CARRIGT = C-_ _ _
_-_ _ _
3. Cross out the remaining vowels (A, E, I, O, U, or Y). ASCROFT = A-SCRFT

4. If there are any double letters, cross out one of them. CRRGT = C-RGT
5. If there are any consonants side by side when the
same code number (see the Soundex Code key below),
cross out all but one of those consonants.
6. Using the Soundex Code Key below, assign a Soundex
code to the first three of the remaining letters. Soundex
codes have one letter and three numbers.
ASRFT = A-261
CRGT = C-623

7. Stop coding after you have three numbers. If a name
does not have enough numbers, add zeros to make
three digits. For example, the Soundex code for Haley
is H400.

Soundex code _-_ _ _

Soundex Code Key[edit | edit source]

Letter in surname Code
B, P, F, V
C, S, K, G, J, Q, X, Z
D, T
M, N

Searching Soundex Indexes[edit | edit source]

Before using Soundex you must know:

  • The ancestor's name
  • The census year and state you want to search
  • The Soundex code for the ancestor's surname

Search Steps[edit | edit source]

  1. Determine the Soundex code for the ancestor's surname.
  2. In the FamilySearch Catalog, find the number for the correct Soundex film.
  3. On the film, find the ancestor's Soundex code, then search for the given name (given names are alphabetical within the code group).
  4. Copy all the information you find you may need every detail for your census search).

Finding the Right Soundex Film[edit | edit source]

After you have the ancestor's Soundex code, find the Soundex film as follows:

  1. In the FamilySearch Catalog, click Place Search and type the state where your ancestor lived.
  2. On the Place Search Results screen, click the state.
  3. From the list, click the census year you want: [state] - Census - [year].
  4. On the Topic Details screen, click the title you want.
  5. On the Title Details screen, click View Film Notes. Scroll to your ancestor's Soundex code (found on the left side of the screen) and write down the microfilm number (found on the right side of the screen).

Tips for Using the 1910 Soundex Index[edit | edit source]

Some major cities and counties have their own indexes. For example:

  • Alabama: Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery
  • Georgia: Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, and Savannah
  • Louisiana: New Orleans and Shreveport
  • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia County

To find film numbers for city indexes in the FamilySearch Catalog, you must search under the name of the state, not the city. The following steps should be used:

  1. Use the Place Search.
  2. On the Place Search Results screen, click the state.
  3. From the list, click on [state] - Census - 1910.
  4. On the Topic Details screen, click the title.
  5. On the Title Details screen, click View Film Notes.
  6. On the Film Notes screen, look for city indexes after the Soundex film numbers for the rest of the state.