Compiled Sources in African American Research
After researching oral history, family records, and vital records, researchers should take advantage of compiled sources. Many blacks wrote autobiographies, and many biographies, family histories, and genealogies have been compiled on African American families.
A first step would be to consult Black Biographical Dictionaries, 1790–1950. This is a three-volume index of 31,000 biographies contained in 290 rare biographical dictionaries that were published before 1951. The volumes are located in major libraries and can be searched online under the title of Black Biographies at Chadwyck Healy, an online database that is not available from home, but may be searched at some libraries.
Another biographical dictionary, The Dictionary of American Negro Biography, published in 1982, contains more than 600 biographies of African Americans who died before 1970. Researchers should also consult works such as Who’s Who Among Black Americans, Who’s Who Among Afro Americans, and Who’s Who in Colored America.
For more recent published biographies, genealogies, and family histories, search the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), which indexes all genealogical journals and newsletters, including African American ones. You may also want to consult the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society directly as well as the ten-year index compiled by Barbara Walker. Researchers should also refer to card catalogues in libraries and colleges in states and communities where their ancestors lived, looking under such subject headings as “Afro Americans Biography,” and “Afro Americans Biographical Dictionaries.” A thorough discussion of these and other similar sources is covered in Tony Burroughs’s Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree.
- Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
- Who's Who Among Black Americans (Detroit: Gale Research Co. and other publishers, 1975-1995); Who's Who Among African Americans (Detroit: Gale Research Co. and other publishers, 1996-present); Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women, vols. 1-7 (New York: Who's Who in Colored America Corp. and various publishers, 1927-1950).
- Tony Burroughs, Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree (New York: Fireside Division of Simon and Schuster, 2001).