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Hunter Library
Research Guides
Western Carolina University

Genealogy: Black and African American Genealogy

This guide lists and describes resources that can be used for genealogical research. Use the tabs to navigate.

Introduction

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.

Searching Information

Tips for Searching:

  • Expect date discrepancies.  Even when you have an exact date for an event, it is possible that it was mis-reported, mis-recorded, or mis-transcribed across resources.  Be sure that your searches are flexible in the date field.
  • Expect name discrepancies.  This is especially for the census, with often both first and last names were mis-recorded by census takers.  For example, the last name Hoagland may appear as Hogland or Hoglund.  Or a first name may appear as Abram, Abraham, Abe, or simply the initial A. 
  • Be familiar with common name abbreviations, especially for males.  For example Geo. = George, Robt = Robert, Jno =John.  Most searches map abbreviations to full names, but if you are looking through a list, it is helpful to be able to decipher these at a glance.  A useful list can be found from Genealogy in Time Magazine..  
  • For discrepancies in names or ages for a record that otherwise looks right, be sure to check others mentioned in the record. If a birthdate is off by several years, but the names and dates of the family members recorded in the rest of the record match the rest of the family, it is probably a match.
  • Census and other records often record the reported race of individuals.  Over time, those designations primarily included the words Black, Colored, Negro, and Mulatto for Black and African American ancestors.  It is not uncommon to find the abbreviation "col." on documents or even an asterisk (as in some city directories) to designate a Black person.  
  • Some but not all counties or cities kept records separate by race.  If records were not separated by race, often there was a designation given (see above bullet) to indicate an individual was Black or African American.
  • Notices for vital events don’t always appear in newspapers.  Obituaries/death/funeral notices did not always appear in newspapers for individuals who died in a particular community, and the same is true of birth and wedding announcements. This was often place and era dependent and may have depended upon individuals notifying newspapers of these vital events (and paying for the announcement). 

Census and Population Resources


Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Records (AKA Freedman's Bank)

From FamilySearch

"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?

  • Over 480,000 personal names (depositors names and relatives)
  • Records that sometimes include:
    • birthdate
    • birthplace
    • where raised
    • if enslaved, former owner
    • current employer
    • occupation,
    • residence
    • relatives 

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:

  • Name of ship
  • Master
  • Port of departure
  • Port of destination
  • List of enslaved persons on board

The enslaved persons information includes:

  • First name
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Stature
  • Name of shipper/owner
  • Shipper/owner’s place of residence

These records are searchable through Ancestry Library Edition.

Newspapers

In-depth Research

If you would like to learn more about Black and African American genealogy or do deeper research, the following resources may be helpful.

Resources by State: NC and Surrounding States & Commonwealths

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.


Georgia

Georgia statewide collection of vital records beginning and end dates. Birth: 1919 to present. Marriage: 1805 to present. Death: 1919 to present.


North Carolina

North Carolina statewide collection of vital records beginning and end dates. Birth: 1913 to present. Marriage: 1868 to present. Death: 1913 to present.


South Carolina

South Carolina statewide collection of vital records beginning and end dates. Birth: 1915 to present. Marriage: 1911 to present. Death: 1915 to present.


Tennessee

Tennessee statewide collection of vital records beginning and end dates. Birth: 1908 to present. Marriage: 1945 to present. Death: 1908 to present.


Virginia

Virginia statewide collection of vital records beginning and end dates. Birth: 1853 to 1896, 1912 to present. Marriage: 1853 to present. Death: 1853 to 1896, 1912 to present.