Surnames/tags: black_heritage slavery
This is a quick guide for starting to research enslaved ancestors in the United States.
- Start with yourself! Add your parents and grandparents, with written sources, ideally including birth/marriage/death, census, etc. FamilySearch is a good place to start for these basics in the United States.
- Ask your family members about stories that have been handed down for generations. Even seemingly insignificant details can end up being very helpful.
Info particular to African American Genealogy
- Tracing families before 1870 can be very challenging. This is the first year that newly freed African Americans were recorded by name in the federal census. The loss of nearly all 1890 federal censuses is also an impediment. But there are still myriad avenues to explore, see bottom for resource links.
- Here are 2 methods to try if you have identified a family member in the 1870 census:
- Assume the previously enslaved ancestor still lived near the former slave owner. Check the 1870 census for nearby white families who were also listed as slave owners in the 1860 slave schedule, then see if any of the family groups match, in terms of age and gender.
- Assume the previously enslaved ancestor moved away from where they had been enslaved. See if the last name they were using in 1870 matches any slave owner within several-county radius of their 1870 location.
- WikiTree members have gathered dozens of resources, for the United States in general, and specific to each state - African American Genealogy Resource Page
- African American Guide on FamilySearch This guide includes many links to databases and other sources, including the Freedmen Bureau Records and the Southern Claims Commission.
- The National Archives recently digitized Confederate Slave Payrolls:
- Coastwise Slave ship Manifests
- Plantations US Black Heritage Index of Plantations
- "Runaway Slave" ads can provide valuable information, try searching:
- Blank census forms, typewritten, for when images are hard to read
- Video: Freedmen's Bureau and Freedman's Bank Records with Nicka Sewell-Smith and Crista Cowan
- Tips for Research: Researching The Enslaved
Research on Wikitree
Chosen Surnames or Slave Owner Names
- Search for the surname and given name, if available, of the last known ancestor using the Search Person Form.
- Repeat the search with any chosen surnames or slave owner's name.
- Repeat with multiple slave owner's names if available. Any known enslaved profiles will be linked to the slave owner's profile even if there is only a first name.
- Search for slaves in a specific county by category. using the Search Person Form and Option 4 - Search for Any Text
- Example: Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Slaves
US Black Heritage (USBH) Categories
- Search for enslaved ancestors and slave owners in categories. using the Search Person Form and Option 4 - Search for Any Text
- Check the location category. Example: Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Slaves for enslaved ancestors with existing profiles.
- Check the location category. Example: Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Slave Owners for existing profiles. Any known enslaved profiles will be linked to the slave owner's profile even if there is only a first name.
- Check the category USBH Heritage Exchange, Connected for profiles of enslaved people in the US Black Heritage's Heritage Exchange Program who have been connected to their descendants
- Login to edit this profile and add images.
- Private Messages: Contact the Profile Managers privately: US Black Heritage Project WikiTree, Elaine Martzen, and Emma MacBeath. (Best when privacy is an issue.)
- Public Comments: Login to post. (Best for messages specifically directed to those editing this profile. Limit 20 per day.)