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African American Records. This training will familiarize you with some of the HBLL Family History Library’s resources to help patrons who are searching for African American ancestors. Beginning the Search. First, write down what the family knows about their ancestors.

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African American Records

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african american records

African American Records

This training will familiarize you with some of the HBLL Family History Library’s resources to help patrons who are searching for African American ancestors.

beginning the search
Beginning the Search
  • First, write down what the family knows about their ancestors.
  • Record names, dates, and places on family group record forms and pedigree charts.
there are 3 kinds of records to search
There are 3 kinds of records to search
recent records
  • Start with the most recent generation.
  • Look at general federal

and state records …..

and then look at records

specifically for African Americans.

general u s records
General U. S. Records

Census Records Homestead Records

Military Records Social Security Death Index

State Records

Cemetery Records City Directories

Church Records Court Records

Land Records Probate Records

School Records Vital Records

tips from fhl quick guide to african american records
Tipsfrom FHL “Quick Guide to African American Records”
  • Search as many kinds of records as you can find to document the lives of your family back to 1870.
  • Study the lives of all family members, including aunts, uncles, and cousins—not just your direct ancestors.
  • Look for changing surnames. Some African Americans changed surnames several times. If you can’t find your family in a census, look for first names and approximate ages of family members. You may find a match.
  • If your ancestor is not listed in an index, check the original records anyway. Some indexes do not include African Americans.
  • Understand that some old records may have described your ancestor in terms used at the time that are not appropriate.
  • African Americans may be listed in “colored” registers. You may also see the abbreviation “Col” next to your ancestor’s name. If your ancestor is not in a “colored” register, try the “white” register. Your ancestor’s race may not have been accurately recorded.
other recent records
Other Recent Records

Search local histories for each town, county, and state where the ancestor lived.

  • Look for information on African American churches, schools, and cemeteries.
  • Learn about local laws that affected the ancestor: Did African Americans vote? Did they have a curfew? Were there laws specifically for African Americans?

An excellent guide that carefully explains how to search for an African American ancestor is African American Genealogical Sourcebook, E184.A1x5, on our Religion & Family History reference shelf .

The Utah African American Genealogical Society will be a great organization to affiliate with. Their contact address is: AAHGS-Utah, P.O. Box 17914, Salt Lake City, Utah 84117-7914.

transition records from slavery to freedom
Transition Records fromSlavery to Freedom

Underground Railroad


Military Records

See the FHL U.S. Military Records Research Outline on Table 4B

Be sure to check the many African American transition records available at ( and Family History Library Catalog > Subject heading.

freedman s bank
Freedman’s Bank

The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, popularly known as the Freedman's Bank, was incorporated by Congress on March 3, 1865 by an act signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the company was to create an institution where former slaves and their dependents could place and save their money.

Because of mismanagement, abuse, fraud, and other economic factors, the Freedman's Bank failed in 1874, leaving tens of thousands of its depositors in economic ruin. While the failure of the Freedman's Bank was tragic and left many African Americans with feelings of distrust of the American banking system, the records created by the bank are a rich source of documentation for black family research for the period immediately following the American Civil War.

freedman s bank cont
Freedman’s Bank cont.

What makes these records so important are the thousands of signature cards that contain personal data about the individual depositors. In addition to the names and ages of depositors, the files can contain their places of birth, residence, and occupations; names of parents, spouses, children, brothers, and sisters; and in some cases, the names of former slave owners.

Twenty-nine of the original thirty-seven branches of the bank had records that have survived and been microfilmed. You may access these records at The BYU Family History Library has many of the films (#928571-91).

slave records

Correctly identifying ancestors in slave records is difficult. Even professional researchers are successful about only 50 percent of the time.

First, the slave owner must be identified and then his records studied for clues to a slave family.

Keep in mind that only about 15 percent of former slaves took their last slave owner’s surname. Some took the surname of people they admired, such as Lincoln or Washington, and some took a surname they had been using for many years without the knowledge of the slave owner.

Study the BLUE BINDER, “African American Records,” #45 for help and tips in identifying a slave owner.

when a slave owner s name is known
When a slave owner’s name is known…..
  • Study the life and records of the slave owner and his family. The slave’s life was inseparably connected with the slave owner. The black ancestor will be listed in records of the slave owner’s property.
  • Look for the slave owner’s name in:

Federal Census Schedules

Federal Census Mortality Schedules

Tax Records

Land and Property Records

Probate, Estate, Chancery Court Records

Plantation Records (Account Log Books)

can you answer these 5 questions about african american research
Can you answer these 5 questions about African American research?
  • 1. Before beginning a search, you should do what?
  • Answer: Write down as much as you already know.
  • 2. Which records do you search first: Slave Records, Recent Records, Transition Records?
  • Answer: Recent Records
  • 3. What was the name of the bank which was established by the government so that former slaves could deposit and keep their money?
  • Answer: Freedman’s Bank
  • 4. In addition to the names of depositors, what other genealogical information can be found in the Freedman’s Bank records?
  • Answer: Places of birth, residence, occupation, parents, spouses, children, brothers and sisters, former slave owners.
  • 5. Identifying ancestors from Slave Records is difficult because it is very challenging to find the name of the _________________.
  • Answer: Slave Owner
As more and more AFRICAN AMERICANS embrace the Gospel

and search after their kindred dead,

we will need to know HOW to help them search.

Hopefully, we now

have a better idea

where to start!