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African American Genealogy Resources

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A resource guide to help researchers of African American families

Researching African American families can be a very challenging, and very fulfilling, venture. African American history was largely unrecorded in the United States, especially before the Civil War. However, there are now a growing number of publications relating to this ethnic group that can help make your search a successful one. You can find these resources in print and online, and this resource guide will help you get started.

Online Resources

Cyndi's List: African American
Compiled by a professional genealogist, this is a huge annotated collection of links to websites relating to African American heritage and genealogy.

"Provides resources, leadership, promotion and advocacy for the mutual development and use of a system of genealogy for researching African related ancestry." Offers databases of census records, death records, marriage records, slave data, and more.
Also includes a very good guide for the beginner genealogist here:

African American Research
A three-part how-to article from Ancestry Magazine, posted on Discusses approaches for research. Specific resources are organized by time period (pre- and post- Civil War).

African American Lives
This online companion to the PBS series of the same name discusses ways African Americans can trace their roots. Includes a genealogy guide and suggestions for getting started on your search.  

Africana Heritage Project
From the University of South Florida, this site collects and shares documents that might help you track ancestors. Includes a good research library and some family histories.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
Holds information on "almost 35,000 slaving voyages." You can search the database using a number of variables and keywords, including name of ship's captain, place where voyage began and ended, vessel name, total number of slaves, and characteristics of slaves. 

African American History & Federal Records
Prologue Magazine
Summer 1997, Vol. 29, No. 2
This digital edition of the National Archives' magazine "focuses on the use of federal records in African American historical research." Genealogists will find many of these resource explanations helpful.

The Freedmen's Bureau, 1865-1872
An explanation of Freedman's Bureau records, "the richest and most extensive documentary source available for investigating the African American experience in the post-Civil War and Reconstruction eras."

Local Interest

Geography of Slavery in Virginia
Database of advertisements for runaway slaves in 18th- and 19th-century Virginia newspapers. Browse or search by name, sex, age, and skills.

Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware
Website version of two books indexing free African Americans during the colonial period. Search by location and family name.

Afro-American Sources in Virginia: A Guide to Manuscripts
Electronic version of the book by Michael Plunkett, which guides researchers to useful primary resources, including "papers, letters, and records of individuals and families; documents of towns, cities, and counties; official state records; church records; material from the Works Projects Administration Folklore Collection; college and university archives; and a variety of other types of documents ."

UVA Special Collections: Hollsinger Studio Collection African American Photographs
Nearly 500 searchable and browsable portraits of African Americans taken in and around Charlottesville, VA during the early 1900s.

Print Resources Available at Your Library

The Source: a Guidebook of American Genealogy
Edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny, 1984
Located in the Rustburg Virginia Collection, 929.1 SO
See the chapter, "Tracking African American Family History" which provides a good foundation for research. Describes types of records, the information they contain, and where to locate them. Also includes a bibliography.

Family Pride: the Complete Guide to Tracing African-American Genealogy
By Donna Beasley, 1997 
Located in the Main Library in Rustburg and Staunton River Memorial Library, Adult Nonfiction 929.1
Written for amateur genealogists, this book provides steps for how to move forward with research. Also discusses publishing your family history.

Finding a Place Called Home: a Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity 
By Dee Parmer Woodtor, 1999
Located in the Rustburg Virginia Collection, 929.1 WO
Provides especially good information on utilizing schedules of slave owners, newspaper notices, county registers, Civil War military records, and Reconstruction-era resources.

Slave Genealogy: A Research Guide with Case Studies
By David H. Streets, 1986 
Located in the Rustburg Virginia Collection, 929.1 ST
Discusses slave genealogy with a focus on non-planatation slaves. Includes a case study involving the records of Wayne County, Kentucky.

Somerset Homecoming: Recovering a Lost Heritage
By Dorothy Spruill Redford with Michael D'Orso, 1988
Located in the Main Library in Rustburg, Adult Nonfiction, 929.3 RE
Not strictly an informational guide, this book describes the author's search for her family's heritage, a research project that took ten years. Describes the informational, mental, and emotional challenges of this type of work. Redford was able to bring 2000 of her forebear's descendents together at the plantation where their ancestors were slaves.

Heritage of Blacks in North Carolina
North Carolina African-American Heritage Foundation, 1990
Located in the Rustburg Virginia Collection, 975.6 HE
African Americans from North Carolinia tell their histories and stories from their ancestors.

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