Black Ancestral Research
Slavery & Emancipation<br> in U.S. 1777-1865, Click on Thumbnail for large Map
Families of America (SFA)©
Black Ancestral Research!
Africa - 1890 - Click on Thumbnail for large Map
Interest in black American ancestral research was shared by only a small segment of America's black population prior to the advent of Alex Haley's Roots. The surge of interest during the post-Roots era overwhelmed libraries, professional genealogists, and genealogical societies. At this writing, some seven years later, interest still remains high, as does the need for guidance. A number of instruction manuals have been written to guide the amateur, including the best, Black Genesis, by James Rose and Alice Eichholz, which was published in 1977. Professional genealogists specializing in Southern states research have become skilled in tracing slave ancestry and are available for hire by those seeking professionally compiled lineages and family histories. Additionally, libraries, archives, and genealogical societies have begun to requisition sources to add to their previously sparse black research collections. {1}

Black ancestral research can be difficult. It should be approached initially just as any American genealogical research project is begun. You begin with yourself and work backward, employing the basics of genealogical research methods and sources in the United States. There are a number of excellent general instruction manuals available for consultation. See the bibliography at the end of this chapter foralist of those I recominend. "Black Genesis" provides a brief outline of the major record sources to use during the initial stages of research and a state-by-state description of resources available.

Along with basic research skills, you'll need a broad understanding of black American history and the country's slave system. The references at the end of the chapter will provide you with this background. Particularly significant is the work of Gary B. Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills on some black families of Louisiana which specifically refutes two research myths, largely constructed by genealogists experienced in tracing white ancestries who are unaware that American printed indexes and sources omit black entries even though the original records include them. {2.}

The first myth is that births of children born to white fathers and black mothers are impossible to document except from oral tradition. In reality, some 15 percent of American blacks have at least one white ancestor and 15 percent have a predominately white ancestry. {3.} The second myth is that American blacks descend from slaves. By 1860, one out of every eight blacks was already free. As early as 1830, some 3,765 free blacks owned slaves themselves. Men often purchased their wives and children born in slavery and then set them free.

Blacks, regardless of whether their ancestors were free or slave, are usually able to trace their ancestry back to the end of the Civil War without too much difficulty using the same sources white Americans use. These sources are referred to in this chapter and described in detail in other chapters of this book. Descendants of free blacks will find their ancestors prior to the Civil War documented in vital, church, land, estate, military, and other public records. Some specific records oriented to color, like residence licenses, manumission papers, and other proofs of freedom, will also be found.

These ancestors are color-coded as B[lack] or M[lulatto] or designated as "free men of color" to distinguish them from white Americans of the same name.

Pre-Emancipation slave families were considered the personal property of their owners and as such were without legal rights. They were prohibited from owning real or personal property themselves and do not appear in these records as owners although they may appear as slaves, named or unnamed.

One of the most effective approaches to identify slave ancestors is to identify the plantation at which the ancestor worked and the owner of the slave family. Research then focuses upon the owners family and the records it produced as slave owners, as well as on the slave family itself.

When slaves were sold to a plantation, their African identity and names were disregarded. They were given only first names, such as Tom, Elina, Mattie, or Sarah. Most slave names were not duplicated on the same plantation, although occasionally you will find slaves named "OldJim," "Big Jim," and "YoungJim" on one plantation, the adjectives helping to distinguish between three slaves.

When the Civil War ended (1865), slaves legally adopted surnames. Some slaves took surnames prior to being freed, but they generally kept their choice a secret from the white connurtity. Many researchers approach slave family research with the misconception that freed slaves took the surnames of their last owner. Slaves were often known by several surnames and made a final choice at the time they were emancipated. They often took the surname of their father, who may have been a white slave master or overseer, a deceased slave, or a slave sold to another owner years prior to the emancipation. Their name may have been the name of a current owner, a former owner, a prominent American (Washington and Lincoln were the most popular), a locally prominent citizen, or the given name of the father of the family. Immediately after the emancipation, it was not uncommon to find some black families using more than one surname. Missouri Gordy, for example, born a slave in 1856, was the granddaughter of Sibby Morgan who was owned by the Brown and Morgan families of Hancock County, Georgia. Missouri Gordy used the name Missouri Brown when, after the Civil War, she applied for a marriage license.

Once you have established the owners of a slave ancestor, it is a good practice to go back to previously searched records and look fix emancipated ancestors under the surname of the owner(s).

Searching for slave ancestors always requires a thorough investigation of the white slave-owning family in all public and historical records.

Another area of critical importance is oral history. Since slave ancestors are rarely found in such public records as vital, land, and estate records, there are few clues to follow in your search. The tradition of maintaining an oral history began in Africa with the "griot", the tribal historian whose role is described in detail in Roots. African tribes relied upon "griots" to preserve their tribal and family histories.

The "griot" would commit names, relationships, and events to memory and repeat them generations at a time when called upon. American slaves also maintained a tradition of oral history. From memory, {1. [pg579] slaves, and later, "freedmen", {4.} passed family histories on for generations. Sometimes known as "storytellers," they were the centers of attention on many a hot summer night. Researchers should contact as many older family members as possible to gather fragments of a family's oral history. While surviving story fragments may not contain specific details about the family's slave residence or owner, the narratives may include clues that will lead to some valuable sources of information.

Oral histories are best taken by tape recorder. There are several excellent books on the market which outline the type of questions to ask during an interview. Willa K. Baum, "Oral History for the Local Historical Society" is recommended by James Rose and Alice Eichholz in "Black Genesis". Her work is published by the Conference of California Historical Societies in Stockton, California (1969). You should also read the oral history chapter in "Black Genesis."

Compilers and collectors of genealogical sources ignored black Americans an pivate and public documents for decades. It will take years to bring black research sources up to the current level of white sources. The authors of "Black Genesis" list twenty-one projects which would improve the availability of black research sources and lessen the time and energy presently required to extend black lineages and compile black family histories. Many of the projects have not been handed and are incomplete, if begun at all. Local groups around the country are working to compile source material in their specific areas, but a national organization dedicated to the retrieval of black historical and genealogical source material is badly needed. The wide dispersion of compiled information does not preclude success in identifying your black ancestry, but success will come more slowly. You will have to pursue research sources more doggedly and do some skillful analysis of the information you are able to locate.

Federal Census Schedules:

While federal census schedules include information about the country's entire population, they are especially valuable in black ancestral research The 1982 Guide to GenealogicalResearch in the National Archives, published by the National Archives and Records Service, discusses information on blacks in the census schedules, as well as in other federal records:

The first listing of all blacks by name in a federal census was made in 1870, In the first federal census taken after the Civil War. In 1850 and 1860, slave statistics were gathered, but the census schedules did not list slaves by name; they were tallied unnamed in age and sex categories. These slave schedules are useful, however, as circumstantial evidence that a slave of a certain age and sex was the property of a particular owner in 1850 and 1860.

Free blacks who were heads of households were enumerated by name in the censuses from 1790-1840, and the names of all free household members were included in the censuses of 1850 and 1860. Slaves however, were listed in total numbers or recorded in age and sex categories, 1790-1840. List of Free Black Heads of Families in the First Census of the United States, 1790, Special List 34, compiled by Debra L. Newman (Washington{1. [, D.C.]: National Archives and Records Service, rev. 1974), lists roughly 4,000 free blacks recorded as heads of families. {5.}

Census records up to and including 1910, are available on microfilm at various libraries and Federal Records Centers throughout the nation. The Genealogical Society of Utah has a complete collection of federal census schedules, as well as an extensive collection of census indexes. However, you should be aware that indexing firms did not always include black families. Long, tedious searches of entire counties may be necessary to find your ancestors in the 1870 census enumerations. While many recently freed blacks remained near their pre-emandpation residences many were already on the move. If you do not find your ancestors in the county in which they lived prior to the emancipation, be certain to search surrounding counties. Before beginning a census search for your ancestry, read Chapter 4, "Census Records," to understand the best use, special problems, and special applications of census records including black censuses taken in specific areas.

The Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives devotes Chapter 12 to records of black Americans, including, in addition to census records, military service and related records. It covers the Revolutionary War-Civil War period, Freedmen's Bureau and related records, records of slaves in the District of Columbia, and records relating to slave trade and African colonization. Cherokee freedmen records are also included.

Military Records

Black Americans began serving in military units during the Revolutionary War. Their service records and pension applications are included in the record groups discussed in the Military Records chapter. Debra L. Newman compiled a list of black servicemen from the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Special List 36 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Service, 1974). Blacks are also listed in records of the Continental and Confederation congresses and the Constitutional Convention, Record Group 360.

The Guide also describes infrequently used collections:

  • When the British evacuated New York in 1783, they took with them many former slaves. Lists of those who left with the British, called "inspection rolls," were created so that reparation could be made to former owners under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1783. Consequently, carefully accurate information was recorded for each evacuee. Given are name, sex, sometimes age, and brief physical description of each individual; name and residence of former owner; and additional information in a "remarks" column. The lists are available on roll 7 of Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, M332, and roll 66 of Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1779, M247.{4.}

Black soldiers were also members of the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Black Union soldiers served in regiments of U.S. colored troops andin otherbranches of the anned forces. You can search the microfilm Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the United States Colored Troops, M589, (98 rolls) to determine if your ancestor served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Soldiers are listed alphabetically by name. The index is available for search through the National Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah. Other record sources pertaining to the black Union soldier include:

  • Compiled Records Showing Service in Volunteer Union Organizations, (M594), rolls 204-17; historical information about volunteer organizations.
  • Tabular Analysis of the Records of the U.S. Colored Troops and Their Predecessor Units in the National Archives of the United States, Special List 33, compiled by Joseph B. Ross (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Service, 1973); regimental records, correspondence, orders, descriptive books, and morning reports.
  • Colored troops division records included in Record Group 94; fifty-four indexed volumes of descriptive lists of black soldiers who enlisted in Missouri in 1864. They list name, age, eye and hair color, complexion, height, place of birth, occupation, and date of enlistment. Those who were freed slaves will list former owner's names in some Instances.

Black Civil War veterans were afforded disability pensions. They are included in the microfilm General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1864, T288, discussed at length in Chapter 8, "Military Records." The index is available on microfilm at various libraries {1. [pg580] and Federal Records Centers throughout the nation. Application forms must be requested from the National Archives and Records Service following the procedure outlined in Chapter 8, "Military Records." Pension application files of black soldiers are very valuable.

Blacks served extensively in Confederate Army units composed primarily of white soldiers, but little genealogical information is found in Confederate service records. Rarely are indications of race included in service records, except when a physical description is given. The most important information included is the soldier's place of enlistment, which was near his residence in most instances. Of course, that's where you would begin your search for the slave owner.

Finding an ancestor in Union Army records does not imply that he was a free black citizen prior to the Civil War. Many escaped slaves joined the Union Army during the war. Some researchers become confused when there is no trace of their black ancestors in the northern area in which the ancestor enlisted. Whenever a black citizen disappears from the records of an area in which he previously appeared, the possibility that he was a slave prior to that time should he considered.

A substantial bibliography of black Americans serving in the armed forces exists although information varies from names and service dates to simple histories of the unit. Some of the more helpful are listed in the bibliography at the end of this chapter.

Freedmen's Bureau and Related Records

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly called the "Freedmen's Bureau", was created by Congress in 1855 as a division of the War Department. The organization was given the task of administering to reigees and freedmen after the war’s end and was directly responsible for helping former slaves adjust to freedom. The bureau issued rations and clothing to needy freedmen, operated hospitals and relocation camps, found jobs for freed slaves, established schools, and leased or supervised the working of abandoned lands. it also legalized marriages entered into during slavery and reunited families split through sales and {1. [Pg581] estate transfers of slaves.

Most of the bureau's records are nongenealogical, but many records are useful. Record Group 105 is divided into two groups:

  • 1. Bureau Headquarter's Records, 1865-72 (described in Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Bureau of Refugees Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Washington Headquarters, compiled by Elaine Everly (Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1973) This collection includes freedmen's marriage certificates between 1861 and 1869. In addition to actual marriage licenses, the collection also includes proofs of marriage. You must know where the marriage of interest took place to locate the record since documents are arranged alphabetically by the groom's surname within each state's file.
  • There are no statistics available on the number of marriages documented for each state. Some states have several hundred and others have none. Records sometimes include, in addition to the names of the marrying parties, their residences, date and place of marriage, their complexions, their parents' complexions, periods of time living with previous spouses, causes for separation in previous marriages, and numbers of children by previous and present marriages.

  • 2. Records of District or Field Offices also contain marriage records. These registers were maintained by local superintendents and agents of the bureau. Registers include the same basic inforination as the bureau headquarters records. Researchers must know the place and date of the marriage to find it in the records. Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi are heavily represented in the collection. Marriage records recorded by the bureau were also simultaneously recorded in local county records.
  • 3. The Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company was founded by Congress as a banking institution with thirty-three branches established between 1865 and 1870. Its records are part of Record Group 101 of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and are reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication M816. Each person applying for an account with the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company was required to provide specific information. Recorded in "Registers of Signatures of Depositors," the applications generally include account number, name of depositor, date of entry, birthplace, place of residence as a child, residence at date, age, complexion, occupation, employer, name of wife or husband, names of children, names of parents, brothers, and sisters, and remarks. The names of former slave owners and the name of the plantation of residence are sometimes included. Some applications do not contain all this information.
  • These registers are not indexed, but there are indexes to deposit ledgers (1865-74) which are microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M817 (5 rolls). These indexes list depositors' names, account numbers, and page number in the deposit ledgers. Indexes are arranged alphabetically by state and then by branch within the state. Names are arranged alphabetically by first letter of the surname of the depositor.
  • Many other Freedmen's Bureau records contain information of genealogical value, but the way the records are arranged and the lack of usable indexes makes research in the records an arduous task. For a full discussion of Freedmen's Bureau and related records, consult the "Guide to Genealical Records in the National Archives from which I have quoted earlier.

All of the records discussed above are in the custody of the National Archives and Records Center. You can use microfilmed records at the Federal Records Centers or you may employ an agent located in Washington, D.C., to search those records of interest to you. The Board for Certification of Genealogists, Box 19165, Washington, DC 20036, has a list of certified record searchers which will be supplied upon request. The Association of Professional Genealogists, Box 11601, Salt Lake City, Utah 84147 also has a list of qualified searchers. {1. [Pg582]

Records of Slaves and Slavery

There is no central repository of records pertaining to slaves and slavery, although one is certainly needed. Records which have been located and preserved are usually found in local and state libraries or archives. A major contribution to slave research would be extracting and indexing all slave holders in the 1860 federal census slave schedules for each county, then determining from the available county records the name of the slave owner's plantation and its geographic location. In the absence of compiled research sources, the researcher must contact each local and state repository for a description of its black history and genealogy collections. The types of records included in their collections will vary.

Plantation Records

If a slave owner's identity cannot be established by family members, the next place to look is plantation records. Usually they include birth, marriage, and death information. They also mention the sale of slaves and list the new owner's name. The number of surviving plantation records is unknown. No concerted effort to locate those records has been made. While many records are certainly lost or destroyed, a large number may still exist. Since plantation records are one of the most valuable sources of black genealogical information, every possible effort should be made to determine if the records of the plantation where your ancestors lived and worked still exist.

Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

While vital records "records of birth, marriage, and death" were not required nation-wide by statute until early in this century, some Southern states and a number of New England states required such records. Although most states insisted, that marriage records be compiled by each county, very few Southern states registered slave marriages. Most of those marriages were by agreement of the slave couple and were not recognized as legal.

Birth records were another matter. Virginia began registering births and deaths in 1853. Interestingly, the early registrations reflect, on a per capita basis, the tendency to register slave births more often than those of the slave owner's own children. One reasonable explanation is the slave owner's need to protect his personal property by officially recording it. West Virginia was formed from Virginia in 1863 and its counties continued to maintain birth and death records after achieving statehood. The Genealogical Society bf Utah has microfilmed Virginia's county records, including the early birth and death records important to black research. If you know the birthdate of a slave ancestor, you can search the birth records for a male or female slave born on that date. The baby's gender will be recorded but not his/her name or the parents' names. The owner's name, however, will be given. Sometimes the name of the plantation or, at a minimum, the area in which the birth took place will be recorded.

Bills of Slave Sales

Slaves were considered personal property. While most personal property was not recorded in civil records, slave sales frequently appear in property records. If a slave owner died indebted, his/her real and personal property was often sold by court order to satisfy the debts. Court records, especially probate court records, will contain bills of sale which list the name and value of the slave sold along with the name of the buyer. Sometimes members of the original slave owner's family will purchase the slaves. Bills of sale will be found among land records, estate records, or miscellaneous county records.

Most of these records are on file in the county in which the transaction took place. Other miscellaneous records can be found in local and state libraries or archives.

Slave Trade Records

Identifying a specific slave in the shipping lists of slave importations is not easy. Most of the ships' manifests list only the number of slaves transported, the African port of embarkation, the port of entry into this country, the shipper's name, and the name and address of the person to whom the cargo was delivered. Manifests for ships transporting slaves between domestic ports are sometimes more descriptive, including in this listing the slave's first name, age, and sex, the name of the shipper, and the name and address of the person to whom the slaves were delivered.

Manifests have been preserved for ships arriving in New Orleans, Savannah, and Mobile; but they are not indexed, so you would need to know when, where, and by whom a slave was sold to use the records. Microfilm copies of the early slave-trade manifests are available at the National Archives and at the Genealogical Society of Utah.

Estate Records

Few researchers will be able to trace slave ancestry without consulting wills, administration records, and inventories. Slaves did not have legal rights and hence did not own property, but they are usually included in the estate records of their owners.

At the time of a slave owners death, the courts required that his/her estate be settled according to the law. The slave owner may have made a will specifying the distribution of his/her real and personal property, including slaves, among his/her heirs. If the owner died without a will (intestate), the court appointed an administrator to settle the estate. The administrator was responsible to see that the real estate and personal property were inventoried to arrange for the sale of property if there were debts to be satisfied. The information included in these estate records is invaluable to the black genealogist.

Will & Testament - 07 Sep. 1834
John SARRETT, Humphreys Co., Tennessee
I will to my beloved wife Mary (McMURRY) SARRETT, four Negroes
1. Female Rachel, (age 24 to 36)
2. Female Maxin, (age 24 to 36)
3. Male: Jim, (age 24 to 36)
4. Male: Claborn, (age 24 to 36)
After the death of my wife I will that the Negroes be sold and the profits be divided among my children.

The Genealogical Society in Salt Lake City has microfilmed most of the county records in the slave states or you can write to the appropriate court for specific documents. Research by correspondence will, however, be difficult due to the extensive searches required - You may consider using the services of a professional genealogist to solve the more complex research problems.

Manumission Records

Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were frequently given their freedom. Some were able to purchase their freedom, especially if they lived in urban areas where they could "moonlight" for extra money. Some slave owners freed favored slaves, a slave mistress and her children, or slaves who provided valiant services. Freed slaves received documents attesting to their manumission, and the action was recorded in county court or land records. Some manumission records are also housed in local and state historical libraries or archives.

Blacks born as freemen also held certificates attesting to their free status although such documents were not always protection against being kidnapped and sold.

Slave Advertisements

Newspaper ads appeared in hundreds of newspapers throughout the slave states advertising sales or runaways. With no indexes or catalogued collections, you will have to learn the names of newspapers for the areas in which your slave ancestors lived and then search them page by page to determine if the slave owner advertised.

Lexington Observer and Reporter. 1 Jan 1840
Ranaway from the subscriber living in Cass County, Georgia, a negro man named Jess. He is a dark mulatto, 45 years old, a scar on one side of his forehead and his right shoulder hone has been broken. The said slave was raised in Lexington, Ky., where he will doubtless endeavor to go.

Negro Woman
Louisville Weekly Journal. 2 May 1849
I wish to sell a negro woman and four children. The woman is 22 years old, of good character, a good cook and washer. The children are very likely, from 6 years down to 1 1/2. 1 will sell them together or separately to suit purchaser. By B. T. Underwood.

Negroes for sale!
Louisville Weekly Journal, 3 Sept. 1845
A yellow negro woman of fine constitution, and two children, from the country and sold for no fault but to raise money. Will not be sold to go down the river. Her husband, a fine man, can be had also. Apply at the store of Jarvis & Trabue 3rd & Main.

The Underground Railroad 1786-1860

From 1786' onward, fugitive slaves could escape northwards on the Underground Railroad which covered fourteen Northern states by 1830. From 1840 to 1860 some 50,000 slaves travelled it to settle in the North or Canada. The Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 was countered by the "personal liberty laws" of many northern states.

If any portion of your family settled in a northern city, in Canada, or in a black community in the Midwest established before the Civil War, the chances are excellent that they travelled on the Underground Railroad at least some of the way. See Wilbur H. Seibert, The Underground Railroadfrom Slavery to Freedom (1898; reprint ed., New York: Russell and Russell, 1967) and William Still, The Underground Railroad (1872; reprint ed., New York: Arno Press, 1968). These two works list stationkeepers and agents of the Underground network- Once you have their names and where they were in operation, you can check the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) to see if they kept jdurnals, diaries, or account books and, if so, where these records are located.

In addition to the individual keepers and agents, vigilance committees in urban centers like Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, and Cincinnati also kept journals and accounts of the monies they expended from donations to transport blacks over the system. These are sometimes called Fugitive Journals. They give names, sex, ages, and destinations. Sometimes comments include information on groups traveling together, origins, children accompanying parents, and other details. {1. [Pg591]

Entries for these committees can also be found in NUCMC and in the Directory of Archives and Manuscripts Repositories (Washington, D.C.: National Historical Publications and Records Commission, 1978) under the headings of Afro-Amencan or Anti-Slavery.

A must is Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971). Don't let the title of the book mislead you. His "Note on Sources" (pp. 497-520) includes a description of United States historical collections pertaining to blacks in general and the Underground Railroad in particular. These twenty-four pages are among the most valuable you will encounter for an introduction to the private papers available. Winks acknowledges that his survey of collections is just a beginning, however.

If you suspect or have proof that your ancestor was assisted by the Underground Railroad, you might search along the usual routes followed by the escaping slaves. Map 19-1 shows these routes, many of which ended across the border in Canada.

Slave Declarations

After the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, several states forbade the importation of slaves into the state for resale and required that emigrants to the state, regardless of their places of origin, must appear before a local justice within a specified time after their arrival and declare their intent to keep the law. This meant that a man moving from Virginia to Kentucky appeared before the local justices and declared who he was and where he came from. If he brought slaves, he recordedwho they were by name, sex, and age, and certified that he moved with the intent of becoming a resident of the area, not with the intent to sell his slaves. These slave declarations are valuable records of migration, settlement, and place of origin.

Registers of Negroes

Most jurisdictions where free blacks resided required that they register with local authorities and carry certificates of their free status as a guard against runaway-slave charges. These registers are especially common in the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Illinois counties preserve a variety of registers dealing with blacks: Record of Indentured Slaves/Servants (many were actually slaves, although slavery was outlawed in Illinois at an early date), Record of Children of Color, Record of Freedom Certificates Issued to Men of Color, and Register of Negroes and Mulattoes. Register of Slaves, Emancipation Register, and Affidavits of Color also served to provide citizenship status, although limited by numerous laws restricting activities of blacks. If your black ancestors migrated to Illinois as slaves and applied for free status in Illinois, these records frequently give places of origin in the slave state they came from. {7.} & {1. [Pg592]

Anti-Slavery Groups and Their Records

An important source of information referred to by writers on black genealogy but rarely treated in a how-to publication is the mass of infonnation created by anti-slavery organizations and their activities. These sprang up in the early nineteenth century and continued until the Emancipation Act in 1863.

An abortive although interesting project was conceived by the Manumission Society of Guilford County, North Carolina, in the mid-183O's {8.} The society chartered a ship to transport blacks to the West Indies, collected several thousand dollars through donations, compensated owners for the loss of their property, transported the blacks to the port, and then discovered two major obstacles to their plans. Finding a place to land them in the West Indies was the first obstacle, for the local economy was unable and unwilling to absorb them. Then the blacks refused to leave America. So the society had no recourse but to find another place to send them. The final decision was to transport them in wagon trains to Indiana and Illinois where dusters of blacks formed their own small communities on the fringes of settlements. Black communities were also established in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and later in Canada.

Records for these groups have been deposited in historical collections across the United States and in Canada.

See the Bibliography which will enable you to locate others. These records are rarely indexed, they are scattered, and their access is subject to some restriction. Badly needed is a complete finding aid that lists their locations and indexes. What do abolition society records include that has genealogical value? Journals, registers, correspondence, and accounts include money expended to move blacks from one place to another. These often name the blacks in family units, give places of origin, ages, and even record births, deaths, and marriages taking place along the way. Reports of arrival and settlement may also be included.

Blacks were enumerated in the city of Philadelphia by abolition society personnel and these censuses are invaluable for the genealogical details they contain.

Registry of Black Ancestry

Genealogical societies, private groups, and religious organizations have been collecting and preserving genealogies of white Americans for decades, but until recently there was no effort to collect black genealogical information already compiled by family and professional genealogists. The recently established Registry of Black American Ancestry is currently accepting for preservation and future computerization family group records, lineage charts, and biographical sketches from those interested in preserving and sharing their private research materials. Records can be submitted to the Registry of: American Black Ancestry, Box 417, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. {1. [Pg593]

Notes and Reference!

  • {1.} The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy; Edited by Arlene Eakle & John Cerny; Published by Ancestry Publishing Co., Salt Lake City, Utah; 1984 Chapter 19, BLACK ANCESTRAL RESEARCH, by Johni Cerny
  • {2.} See Gary B. Mills, The Forgotten People: Cane Rivers Creoles of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977) and Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills, "Slaves and Masters: The Louisiana Metoyers, "National Cenealogical Society Quarterly 70 (Sept. 1982): 163-89.
  • {3.} Roger Brown, Soci at Psychology (New York: The Free Press, 1965), p. 165, and Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), p. 133.
  • {4.} National Archives and Records Service, Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (Washington, DC.: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1982), p. 173.
  • {5.} Freedman: Slave who is emancipated. "Free man of color": black who is free from birth or freed many years earlier. Both are different from a freeman who is always white in a legal sense. In Pennsylvania, a freeman is a single, white male overtwenty-one years of age. In New York, a freeman is a citizen or man free to ply a trade within city limits. In Massachusetts, a freeman is white, age twenty-one, and owns enough land to vote.
  • {6.} National Archives and Records Service, Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (Washington, DC.: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1982), p. 173.
  • {7.} W. Wesley Johnston, Illinois Free Black Records, Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly 14 (Summer 1982): 72-73.
  • {8.} Manumission Society of Guilford, North Carolina, 1794-1855, Southern Historical Collection, 2055, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.


Would like to Exchange and Share information on SARRATT / SARRETT / SURRATT Families, contact me at:

E-Mail: Paul R. Sarrett, Jr. Auburn, CA.

Text - Copyright © 1996-2008 Paul R. Sarrett, Jr.
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Jul. 10, 2000;  Dec. 20, 2008;