Researching your ancestors can be a very rewarding but, at times, a very frustrating endeavor! For those with Black or African American ancestors, there is often an extra layer of complexity as records may be incomplete or even non-existent, depending on the period under investigation. We have created this page to help you search through both standard resources and those resources specifically focused on Black and African American genealogy. Like many other genealogy guides, we recommend you begin by writing down all relatives names that you know (including nicknames and married/maiden names) and that you talk to your family to get that information for as many relatives--both recent and long past--as you can. It also helps if you have a general idea of where folks lived; if you can narrow your geographic area to a county or counties, that is very beneficial. Identifying towns, cities, or villages is even better.
Before you begin, we also want to acknowledge that this process may be difficult and some of the documents or information sources you find may include words that are objectionable at best and racist or hateful at their worst.
The resources on this page were selected as good resources for beginning research on Black and African American ancestry but are not comprehensive by any means. On this page you will find sources run the gamut from vital statistics to resources that include social information (such as who visited whom, reunions, anniversary celebrations) to resources that include records specific to enslaved peoples. We have also provided information specific to North Carolina resources and the surrounding states/commonwealths: South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Tips for Searching:
Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Records (AKA Freedman's Bank)
"The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company (often called the Freedman's Bank) was created to assist newly freed slaves and African American soldiers at the end of the Civil War. The bank failed in 1874 and many depositors lost their savings, but the records of the bank remain. Among the records are the registers of signatures of depositors. The registers from 29 branches from 1864 to 1871 show the names, residence, and description of each depositor. They may also include the genealogy and relatives of the depositor. Most depositors were African Americans. A few were European immigrants mostly in New York City."
What information can you get from the Freedman's Bank records?
Freedman's Bank records can be found in Ancestry Library Edition and FamilySearch International.
Southeast United States Coastwise Inward and Outward Slave Manifests, 1790-1860
Manifests for enslaved individuals arriving in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama from 1790-1860. Post-1808, personal information for each enslaved person was included and the owner had to affirm the enslaved individual had been imported prior to 1808.
The manifests include:
The enslaved persons information includes:
These records are searchable through Ancestry Library Edition.
If you would like to learn more about Black and African American genealogy or do deeper research, the following resources may be helpful.
Before you begin...
A note about statewide records: None of the below states performed state-maintained birth or death records until the early 1900s. Specifics about vital records can be found under each state’s entry. Also note that individual municipalities or counties may have recorded vital records earlier than those maintained by the state.