Your ancestors’ journeys are part of history—and part of you. But even if their paths were difficult, retracing them doesn’t have to be. Explore your family’s story
in our African American record collections.
Find new details in our latest additions and
get expert advice for learning more
than you ever thought possible. And look below for help in getting started with
your search and support along the way.
Watch our experts explain African American family history.Feb 11, 2013
Scroll to see details you can uncover in selected
records from our African American collections.
Household information gathered every 10 years… Find out more
Tally of the numbers of slaves owned by an individual…
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Special census schedules that collected details about deaths…
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U.S. Colored Troops service records cover approximately 175 regiments… Find out more
Records from the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company,…
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Smaller, unique historical record collections… Find out more
Includes short biographical sketches and memorials… Find out more
More than 2,300 personal stories and photographs… Find out more
Learn how one woman discovered her ancestor’s journey from slavery to teacher.
Former slaves may have remained in the same county after emancipation. Look for white property holders of the same last name in the county – they may have been the slave’s owner.
Property owned by former slaves in 1870 may have been after emancipation, or the land may have been willed or given to them by a former owner. Search for land records in the county to learn more.
“Color” can help piece together heritage. A person labeled “M” would have likely had mixed-race parents; it’s possible he or she was the child or grandchild of a slave owner.
A former slave living in Georgia in 1870 but born in South Carolina may have been deeded to someone while still a slave. If so, property records of the transaction may exist in the county.
Children under 5 in the 1870 census would have been born free; children over 5 may have been born into slavery.
If an emancipated slave adopted his or her former owner’s surname, you may be able to determine the owner by looking at the surname of the white slaveholders in the same county.
Slaves may have been hired out. In some cases, both owner and employer are listed.
If an estate is mentioned, look for probate records that may include more details about slaves.
Slave schedules also list the slaves that were serving prison time in the penitentiary.
Place of birth outside the state you’re researching may indicate a property record trail for an enslaved person.
Slaves are listed by name but usually without a surname.
When you find a slave enumerated on a mortality schedule, look at the surnames of the people listed before and after him. Then check the traditional census form (population schedules) and slave schedules to see which of those households plus any households enumerated between them held slaves to get a list of possible slave owners.
The proximity of the slave child Henry Barnes to free Adriana Barnes could indicate a connection.
Note rank, military unit, and date and place of enlistment – these can help you determine if you’re following the right person.
Compare birthplace, age, and occupation to census records.
Physical descriptions can be rare but are included in certain service records.
Remarks may be very revealing: here, Lewis Windsor’s former owner’s name is included, which may lead to pre-emancipation answers in census and property records.
Use date of the application as a reference point for a timeline: all information/events on this record happened prior to the date.
Names of former masters and residences, which will help with research in the 1860 census and property records.
Names of children and ages are given. Note that Wood could be Susan’s married name.
Check to see if place of birth is the same as residence of the former owner. If not, there may be property records indicating a transfer or sale.
Look for names of parents and siblings and whether or not they’re still living.
This record mentions the 2nd African Baptist Church. Research online to determine if the church still exists or where to inquire about church records.
Her mark tells us that like many African Americans in this era, Mary could not write her name.
Select “Search All Records” to locate records from a specific state
Select the state you’re interested in from the map at the bottom of the Search page.
From the list of all collections for a state, select the collection you’re interested in so you can search it directly and learn quickly if it contains records about your family.
Narrow your selection more by selecting a county. Note, however, that only collections from that county – not state collections that contain information about that county – will be included in the list.
Names and details about parents provide clues to a previous generation – and more records.
Note education – and search for a yearbook on Ancestry.com. Contact the school’s library for additional class information.
If a birth year is included, search for the person in the first census following that year and each available census thereafter.
Create or add to a timeline of events using the details in the listing for a clearer view of a person’s life and to help you determine where gaps exist in your research.
Search both the 1940 and 1930 U.S. Federal Censuses to learn more about the former slave.
Select the image to read the interview transcript, where you’ll learn more about the former slave, including information that will help you uncover additional records.
Search for records associated with siblings and parents: your ancestor may be mentioned.
Details vary from interview to interview but may provide clues, like a former owner’s name, that can lead to pre-emancipation details.