RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees No. 25 [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Frog RootsWeb's Guide to
Tracing Family Trees


Guide No. 25


Ethnic Roots

African American

Native American



Unique Peoples




Black Cowboys



Cherokee Slave Revolt of 1842



Oklahoma's Frontier Indian Police



Implementation of Segregation







Cyndi's List Logo



Native American


African Americans


Unique Peoples & Cultures


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"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. "

—Alex Haley


African American Native American
Jewish Melungeons

Unique Peoples


Journal In addition to utilizing online sources, basic genealogical research must be done in courthouses, libraries and archives by all family historians, regardless of ethnicity, since the great majority of original records of interest to genealogists are not online — yet, and may never be. Use the searchable databases and records that are online and take advantage of various mailing lists and newsgroups to find others researching the same and connecting families.

If you are not familiar with mailing lists at RootsWeb (how they work, how to subscribe, search and browse them) you will find that information under each one. Ethnic Genealogy Lists can be found here.


Flower African American

Genealogy for many, especially African Americans, is not just a hobby, but a passionate search for identity. The Internet has become a powerful tool for making connections among our families and finding links that would have been next to impossible a few years ago.

Tony Burroughs, of Chicago State University, and an expert in tracing Black families, cautions against unrealistic expectations such as immediately finding the "slave ship from Africa" that brought your ancestors to America. Start with the present and worth back methodically.

While there is a tendency for African American researchers to focus on ethnic-specific sites, for those researching the slave period of American history, it will be necessary to research records of white families as well. Moreover, at least one out of ten African Americans was already free when the Civil war broke out in 1861. Adding to the complexity of the research is that many had racially mixed backgrounds encompassing African, Caucasian and American Indian ancestry.

Computer Major online sources for African American genealogists are:

Pin   Afrigeneas
Pin Slave Data Collection
Pin Amistad Research Center is a must-see site. This center is one of the nation's premier minority repositories. Genealogists should check its Manuscript Collections, which include the papers of artists, educators, authors, business leaders, clergy, lawyers, factory workers, farmers, musicians and others. The manuscript collection contains more than 10 million documents that record the efforts of those who have charted African American history and race relations.
Pin Africana Libraries & Archives
Pin African American Links
Pin Christine's Genealogy Website
Pin Freedmen's Bureau Online (free). The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned lands, more commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau was created by Congress in 1865. Its task was one of administering to refugees and freedmen after the war's end and was directly responsible for helping former slaves adjust to freedom. The bureau issued rations and clothing, operated hospitals and relocation camps, found jobs, 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 estate transfers of slaves.
Pin Lest We Forget: An Untold History of America
Pin African-Ancestored Mailing Lists
Pin The African-Native Genealogy Homepage (Oklahoma's Black Indians of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations)

Facts and Tips

Pin   In 1860 there were 3,953,760 slaves in fifteen Southern states and 488,070 free African Americans, with more than half of them living in the South.
Pin During the Civil War it is estimated that 125,000 male slaves were moved to Texas to "protect" their owners' investments and keep them away from the Union Army.
Pin After slavery ended, many former slaves made finding relatives their first priority. In the 1870s and early 1880s as many as 25,000 African Americans migrated to Kansas.
Pin African Americans established many towns in the late 1800s in California, Kansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
Pin One obstacle to documenting African American ancestry is the fact that slave marriages were not legally recognized prior to emancipation, and therefore, were not recorded in official records. Tracing enslaved ancestors requires identifying the slave-owning family and tracking documents connected with that family. For example, slaveowners often "gave" (by deed or will) one or more slaves to their newly married children and transferred ownership of slaves to others to pay for debts.
Pin Some slaves chose a surname which represented or identified the first slave owner of the earliest born-in-Africa enslaved ancestor who came to North America. The surname, often kept secret from the slave owners, was handed down over the generations to help track relations and lineages. After the end of slavery, those who already possessed surnames revealed them, while others chose a surname for the first time.
Pin During and immediately after the Civil War, government agencies often insisted that slaves have surnames to enroll in their programs and receive benefits. Thus expediency often dictated a quick choice of a name. Others claimed names based upon the name's association with relatives or former owners, to assert individuality, or because of the sound or prestige of the name. One study of a group of South Carolina's former slaves found only 17 percent chose the name of their last master. While a different study of former slaves in Alabama and Louisiana concluded that 71 percent chose the name of their most recent owner. In a study done by Tony Burroughs he found that only 14.9 percent of the former slaves adopted their former master's surname.
Pin Free nonwhites formed their own civil, social and fraternal organizations, especially in the South—such as the Brown Fellowship Society, restricted to mulattoes; the Humane Brotherhood, free Black men; and employment records, such as those maintained by the particular railroads, including the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which are housed at the Chicago Historical Society.

Digging up plantation records

Tara The image of Tara — the fictional O'Hara plantation in Gone With the Wind — is one of opulence in the antebellum period, and while some Southerners were rich, most genealogists discover the so-called "plantations" of their families were nothing more than farms with modest homes.

JournalFor African American researchers trying to locate plantation records where their families toiled in hopes of solving some genealogical riddles, and for descendants of slave-owning Southern ancestors seeking to locate these valuable old records, two myths must be exposed: First, not all slave owners were wealthy, and secondly, not all slaves lived on plantations.

JournalIn 1860 there were approximately 385,000 slaveowners. However, of this number, the majority — more than 200,000 — owned five slaves or less.Don't just assume your ancestors were enslaved and neglect to check the U.S. Free Population Schedules of the 1860 census.

Plantation records are private business records, and some are still held by descendants of plantation owners and not available to the public. Many, of course, have not survived. Some can be found in archives and libraries that collect private papers and records, in private archives, historical societies, manuscript libraries, college and university libraries, and at the Library of Congress. The largest collection of plantation records that are rather easily accessible, because they have been microfilmed, are Records of Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, by Kenneth M. Stampp. The so-called Stampp collection is in a series. Each series is accompanied by a guide. The first group from this collection contains more than 400 rolls of microfilm from eleven repositories in sevens states. The microfilming of plantation records is an ongoing project.

JournalAll or parts of the Stampp collection can be found in genealogical and university libraries and historical societies around the country. The records that have been filmed from the Southern Historical Collection are available via interlibrary loan, and possibly some of the others may be available through this program. The Family History Library has the Stampp collection, along with the guides annotated with the FHL microfilm roll numbers.

Journal You might not find plantation records in the state in which the plantation was actually located because the owner might have owned several plantations in different states. Also, the owner's descendants might have sold the property and moved to another state and donated the records to a repository anywhere in the country.

Journal The vast majority of African Americans in the United States are descendants of the 400,000 black Africans who were transported to North America against their will. Most family historians are likely to discover their immigrant African ancestor arrived in America between 1741 and 1810. Most of these enslaved people that were brought to British North America came from a narrow strip of the West African coast — known today as Angola, southern Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Benin. Others were from what is now Mozambique.

Pin   GEN-AFRICAN: Gatewayed with the soc.genealogy.african newsgroup for the discussion of African genealogy.
Pin AFRICANAMER-GEN — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding all aspects of African-American genealogy. We support "inclusiveness" on genealogy e-mail lists.
Pin FPC-OTHER-FREE-GEN. A mailing list pertaining to Free Persons of Color, Other Free and/or Mulatto as reported by official records.
Pin MIXED-BLOODS — Indigenous/Mixed-Blood ancestry of what is now the United States of America. This mailing list has great emphasis on the findings of the "Hidden Heritage." If you are searching for the truth regarding your mixed-blood ancestry, then this is the right path for you. All colors of the Rainbow are welcome here.


Flower Native American

A common tradition found in many American families is the one pertaining to an unknown Native American ancestor. Sometimes the legend can be documented, but not always.. Before you tackle tracing a Native American line, become familiar with genealogical research by doing some research on one of your other branches. This will prepare you for the somewhat complex records you will encounter in the search to ascertain whether you have any Indian blood.

JournalTalk to all your relatives, and learn as much as possible about your Indian ancestors. If the name of the tribe is known, you will be able to take a shortcut and go directly to the tribal records. In most cases, the tribal affiliation will not be known, and it will be necessary to study the localities, especially the place of birth, where your Indian relatives have lived. Next research the Indian tribes that historically are known to have resided in those geographical areas and those tribes who now have reservations or live in those areas. This helps to narrow down the tribal possibilities.

Journal For example, if the family story simply claims that your great- great-great-grandmother was part Cherokee (the most famous tribe), you must trace, generation by generation, the family line connected to her.

JournalNames are a frequent problem encountered in Native American research. In the 1880s, when the annual federal Indian census lists began, you may find your ancestor listed under two different names — one being his Indian name, the other an English one. Word of caution: Indian census lists do not prove tribal affiliation — you must find the enrollment lists.

Journal One of the most recurring stories in American families is that one of your ancestors is an Indian maiden — usually a princess. Beware of accepting at face value any Anglo terms given to Native Americans. The second part of the tradition may be that the family was not necessarily proud of their mixed blood, and would not talk about it. There may or may not be any truth to such stories.

Journal Examine carefully traditions that claim your Indian blood came through a female. While it is true that many of our mixed pedigrees are the result of a union of a white male and an Indian female, Indian men cohabitated with white females also.

Journal There is an enormous amount of material available pertaining to our Indian ancestors. Determine what tribe they were from and/or learn where and when they lived. Next determine what records, usually federal government ones, were generated that might pertain to them. If your Indian ancestors ever received monies or land from the government, there is a good chance you will be able to prove your Indian blood.

Pin   WWW Virtual Library — American Indians
Pin Native Links
Pin Broken Threads

Native American History and Genealogy



CHEROKEE — A mailing list for the discussion of Cherokee history and culture. Please use the related CherokeeGene mailing list described below for genealogical discussions.



CherokeeGene — A mailing list for anyone interested in Cherokee genealogy. Please use the related CHEROKEE mailing list described above for history and culture discussions.



CHOCTAW — A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Choctaw Indian tribe in Oklahoma (McCurtain County and neighboring counties).



CHOCTAW-SOUTHEAST — A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Choctaw Tribe of Native Americans. While the list will emphasize those who lived in the Southeastern United States, especially Mississippi, all Choctaw researchers are welcome. Additional information can be found on the Choctaw Genealogy Page at



FIVECIVILTRIB — A mailing list for anyone who is researching the Five Civilized Tribes (i.e., Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek).

Flag   Metis and French-Canadian Ancestors

See Guide 24 also.

Pin   Metis Resource Centre, Inc.
Pin METIS. Metis descendants; those who have mixed Native American and European (principally French) ancestry.
Pin METISGEN. A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Metis and their descendants. The Metis are North America's "fur-trading children," those born from the first unions of natives and whites.

Flower Jewish

Jews have been coming to America since 1654 when twenty-three settled in New Amsterdam. However, the majority of Jewish family history researchers discover their ancestors arrived nearly 250 years later. Between 1880 and 1924 one-third of Eastern European Jewry left their homes, and more than 90 percent of them came to the United States. Of these, about 75 percent were from the Russian Pale, which consisted of the fifteen western provinces of European Russia and the ten provinces of Congress (that is, Russian-held) Poland. Another 18 percent of these Jewish immigrants came from Galicia, Bukovina, and Hungary — all regions of Austria-Hungary. About 4 percent arrived from Romania.

Journal Thus, the American-Jewish genealogist frequently discovers within two or three generations his or her immigrant ancestor(s). And from there the trail leads, usually, to Eastern Europe. In most European countries Jews were required to register their vital events with a priest or minister of the state church. So, while many Jewish records have been lost, researchers may find their ancestors in the civil records or in other church records. Amazingly, many Jewish records in Europe have survived.

Journal Use the Family History Library's catalog to determine if records have been filmed that will aid your research. For example, this library has acquired extensive Jewish records of birth, marriage and death from Poland, Germany and Hungary. The former Kingdom of Hungary included areas now in Czechoslovakia, the former Soviet Union, Romania, former Yugoslavia and Austria. It has filmed all available Jewish records from modern Hungary up to 1895, including the 1848 Jewish census for several old Hungarian counties, some of which are now in Czechoslovakia and what was the former Soviet Union. If your Jewish ancestors came from France, Germany, Hungary or Poland, you are likely to discover many records pertaining to them have been microfilmed.


Pin   Also see information and links at Ethnic, Religious and National Index of FEEFHS (Federation of East European Family History Societies).

JournalJewish genealogists have created impressive databases recently, and many of these are on the Web and easily accessed. Moreover, many articles pertaining to how to trace your Jewish roots are also available online.


Pin   JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy
Pin JewishGen FAQs: A must-read.
Pin JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF)
Pin Yiskor Book Project
Pin Avotaynu: Leading publisher of information and products of interest to persons who are researching Jewish genealogy and Jewish family history. Back issues of Avotaynu are available on CD-ROM.
Pin Jewish-American History on the Web
Pin Jewish Genealogy CROSS-INDEX
Pin Sources for Sephardic Genealogy
Pin Sephardic Jewish Genealogy
Pin Routes to Roots: Tracing Jewish Roots in Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. This is an internationally known firm with offices in Ukraine and Poland that specializes in Jewish research (for a fee) in the archives of Eastern Europe.
Pin JEWISH-ROOTS — A mailing list for anyone interested in Jewish genealogy.
Pin Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy, by Gary Mokotoff and Warren Blatt. Written by two experts in Jewish genealogy, this small, inexpensive book exposes readers to many of the techniques and resources for doing Jewish genealogical research and points to more advanced areas to continue the research.




Pin   The Melungeons Revisited
Pin Melungeon Heritage Association
Pin Melungeon Resource Page
Pin Melungeons and Other Mestee Groups
Pin MELUNGEON-KIN — Mailing List. For questions about this list, contact the list administrator at



Unique Peoples

Pin Redbones and Melungeons
Pin Redbones
Pin INTERRACIAL-GENEALOGY — A mailing list for anyone who is researching their interracial ancestry.
Pin Plattdeutsch
Pin BLACK-DUTCH — A mailing list for anyone who wants to help define the most common meaning of the term "Black Dutch."
Pin BLACK-DUTCH-AMERICA — A mailing list for anyone with genealogy interest in the Black-Dutch American Ancestry. This list has great emphasis on the theory of Native American, African American, Scotch, Irish and other cultures being connected to this great mystery called Black Dutch. Throughout America researchers have tried to solve this ancestral mystery, if you feel you can contribute or add some suggestions, then this is the right list for you.
Pin Black Irish
Pin BLACK-IRISH — A mailing list for anyone with genealogy interest in Black-Irish ancestry. This list has great emphasis on the theory of Irish, Native American, Spanish, African, and other nationalities being connected to this great mystery called Black Irish. Throughout America and the world researchers have tried to solve this ancestral mystery, if you feel you can contribute or add some suggestions, then this is the right list for you.
Pin See Cyndi's List also.



Books Suggested Reading
& References
Finding Place Book
Afri Geneas Bookstore

Jewish Roots Book

Routes to Roots Foundation
Jewish Roots in Poland and Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova

Avotaynu: Is a leading publisher of information and products of interest to persons who are researching Jewish genealogy and Jewish family history. Back issues of Avotaynu are available on CD-ROM. AVOTAYNU: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy is edited by Sallyann Amdur Sack and Gary Mokotoff, and has been published quarterly since 1985. It contains articles and data of Jewish genealogical interest and is written by an international group of authors.


Byers, Paula K., editor. African American Genealogical Sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Gayle Research Inc., 1995.

Byers, Paula K., editor. Native American Genealogical Sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Gayle Research Inc., 1995.

Carter, Kent. The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914. Orem, Utah: Incorporated. 1999.

Elder, Pat Spurlock. Melungeons: Examining an Appalachian Legend. Blountville, Tennessee: Continuity Press. 1999.

Gormley, Myra Vanderpool, CG. Cherokee Connections. Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1995.

Hill, Edward E. Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Record Services, Administration, 1981.

Kurzweil, Arthur, and Miriam Weiner. Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy, Volume I: Sources in the United States and Canada. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1991.

Mokotoff, Gary, and Warren Blatt. Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy.

Rottenberg, Dan. Finding our Fathers: A Guidebook to Jewish Genealogy. Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1986.

Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah. Ancestry Incorporated. 1997.




Dot Index to Guides Page
Dot RootsWeb Guides to Tracing Family Trees are written & compiled by professional genealogists Julia M. Case, Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG & Rhonda McClure

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