What Are Slave Schedules and How Can They Help?

In 1850 and 1860, the U.S. government counted slaves, who were considered property, on a separate census schedule. Known as “slave schedules,” each includes the names of slaveholders and descriptions of slaves owned; slaves, however, are rarely listed by name. Still, you can use information in a slave schedule to help you learn more about a slave ancestor. Here’s how:

Step 1.
Search for the former slave in the 1870 census. Note his or her location, birth date, surname, and other details. Also make a note of white property owners, particularly those who own large parcels of land, living nearby.

Step 2.
Move to the 1860 census and search for a land- and slaveholder with that same surname (often emancipated slaves would adopt the surnames of their former owners and/or remain in the same general area). No luck? Search for the white property owners you found in 1870, noting the ones who own slaves.

Step 3.
Move to 1860 U.S. Census – Slave Schedules and search for the white property owners from step 2. Compare details listed for the slaves they owned to the information you uncovered about your own ancestor in 1870 (be sure to subtract 10 years from the slave’s age). Found a match? Land, tax, and probate records for the slaveholder may offer details about his or her slaves – and mention them by name. Repeat the process with 1850 U.S. Census – Slave Schedules.