Overview of African American Research

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African American Research

This article is part of a series.
Overview of African American Research
Compiled Sources in African American Research
Census Records in African American Research
Military Records in African American Research
Freedman's Savings and Trust Company
Freedman's Bureau
Researching Free Blacks
Researching Slavery
List of Useful Resources for African American Research

This article originally appeared in "African American Research" by Tony Burroughs, FUGA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy


Contrary to popular belief, many records exist for researching African American genealogy. Some of these records are similar to those of European Americans, but African American sources diverge as American history meanders through prejudice, discrimination, and exclusionism. The 1896 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Plessy v. Ferguson, legalized the doctrine of “separate but equal.” As segregation flourished, two distinct societies evolved. Parallel organizations and institutions developed and multiplied in both communities. The records of the two populations may compare in type, location, and quantity, but they are catalogued separately. In addition to these records, African American research also yields several kinds of records that are unique.

This chapter examines many of the records available, dealing both with slave and non-slave related records. In cases where the records are the same as European American records, the text will attempt to show researchers how to use these sources to find African Americans most effectively. In other cases, where the records are unique or are similar but have developed separately, the text discusses them in detail. For example, county marriage records exist for both groups, but may be classified as “White” and “Colored” and filed separately. Print publications also illustrate the separation. Who’s Who in America includes very few African Americans while its counterpart, Who’s Who in Colored America is exclusively African American.1

A careful study of African American history provides researchers with a strong foundation for genealogical research. The successful student of African American genealogy will closely examine the history of segregation and the emergence of two different Americas, one white and one black. An understanding of the resulting cultural and societal differences is critical not only to locating records, but also to evaluating their contents. Many of the conditions created by “separate but equal” are pointed out in the following discussion of sources.

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Research Back to 1870

1870 is a critical date Mortgage Loans for researchers of African American genealogy. It represents the beginning of an extremely difficult research period: the pre-1870 world of enslaved African Americans. Success in researching in this period actually depends on how thoroughly one has researched records created after 1870. Writing The researcher must use every available post-1870 source to work methodically back in time from the present, to build a strong foundation of evidence before trying to conduct pre-1870 work. best cookbooks Merely using census records, as many novices do, horde leveling guide is not enough.


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