African American Genealogy Research-Tips on how you get started! 1 & 2

It does not matter who or where in the U. S. you are researching, you need to know the fundamentals about genealogy research, records & resources. Most importantly be able to ask questions, managing your files, documenting your resources and share your findings.

You need to be organized, if not you’ll become frustrated and quit, or duplicate research you’ve already done. You will become successful in collecting pieces of paper. Have a system in place the helps you record, document, store and retrieve information. Some use file folders, binders or boxes. Select one and be consistent. An easy way is to just alphabetize your file folders with the surnames of heads of the family.

time to evaluate

Things to think about:

—  Who, What, When, Where, and Why-things I need to know

—  Has someone in your family already completed some research

—  Do you have the time? Have you considered the costs?

—  $$$$-Costs-yes there is costs to doing genealogy research

Tips on retrieving information

Remember: What goes Out Must come IN

Whether you’re writing to a cousin or to a county clerk three states away, you will need to track all of your pending information requests. Keep copies of all the letters you send — they act as records of what you requested when. Tell the family of your successes or failures…it will become a recording and you might get some help or new information.

Tips on research trips

—  When you are researching, Only search one name/person/surname, if you see other names that you need to research further, make a note on a post-it, or add to the to do list- date it.

—  REMEMBER to cite all the information so you can return to the right document.

—  Stick to your to do list, have only one to do list-per person/file

—  Do not try to analyze your information -take it home to read, sort, analyze & make notes

—  Join and participate in a genealogical society, group…

—  Attend genealogy training and conferences (keep a record of your attendance)

—  Share your experiences

—  Ask for help & Set up sharing time

 More Tips:

—  Don’t assume anything

—  Write down the different spellings of the surnames (Goens/Goins/Goings/Gowins/Gowens/

Gowings, I have over 10 spelling for this surname)

—  Ask questions, document, document…

—  Research the entire family

—  Don’t assume all African-Americans have Native American roots

—  Prove your research, learn about the area/community you are researching

—  Understand the laws that are in place during the time you are researching

—  Analyze the documents you obtain-understand and see what it can do for you-

—  Learn the “So What” concept

—  Chat with those who have done it.

African Americans have been called numerous names, hold titles and been identified by abbreviations and notes, such as:

—  Col’d=colored

—  Cold=colored

—  M=Mulatto

—  B=Black

—  A=Africa

—  Free persons of color (FPC)

—  Free Mixtures

—  Free Negroes

—  Non-white

—  Free Negroes chargeable with tax

—  Free Blacks chargeable with tax

—  Person(s) of Color

 Who do you start with? YOU!

—  Write down your information-Document!

—  Who is your oldest living family member? Call them Today!

—  Oral History, Photos, and Sharing of Information

What you need to know about a person

—  Full name and nicknames (why nicknames)

—  Where were they born, what county, city, state date, where they born in a hospital?

—  What was going on in the area during the years you are researching?

—  What were the parents, names, grandparents, etc, where they born, type of work they did, siblings…

—  Type of work, who are the neighbors, church affiliations, etc.

Know your records & resources

—  Vital Stats records: birth, death, marriage, divorce

—  Federal Census & State Census*

—  Public records-probate, wills, deeds, tax lists, personal property list, mortgages, bill of sales

—  Media Records-newspaper, Obits, Funeral notices

—  Military Records

—  Headstones, cemetery records

What about the resources: Are they Primary vs. Secondary Resources?

Primary, is a person witnessed the event

Secondary, did not witness the event

That is important for you to know!

You need to understand who provided the information-were they a witness, or was it passed down. It might be accurate, but it also might not be. You need to determine what type of a resource you are looking at.

Some Challenges you might face while doing African American genealogy research

—  Records not recorded into public record

—  Records destroyed

—  Denial-don’t want to know, it’s the past

—  Don’t want to share the information-I will take it to my grave

—  Received information that is not totally the truth or reliable

—  You keep looking for people of color during slave research

check it out

 The NOT’s

—  Not understanding the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS)

—  Not aware of Friends, Associates and Neighbors (FAN) principle by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

—  Not using Cluster Research

—  Not having a plan in place

—  Not using Google as your friend to access other tips and leads

—  Not tuning in to the FREE resources like weekly blogtalkradio shows and podcasts, etc. (Research at the National Archives and Beyond and Africanrootspodcast)

Part 2

Slave records and where to find them…

—  Recorded property records-Courthouse

—  Historical societies, libraries, archives, attic’s

—  Look for the plantation owner-who were the neighbors

—  Plantation owner-find out if there is any information regarding the plantation in local city or county records, historical society

—  Look for plantation owner descendants-maybe they are looking

—  Google “surnames”

—  Locate others searching the same surname and areas

—  Wills, estate records, manumission (freeing of a slave) documents, insurance records

—  Church and religious affiliation, check library records, special collections

—  National archives-records that pertain to American Slavery and the International Slave Trade: (

—  National & State Archives

—  Library of Congress (two booklets)

—  State Libraries, College Libraries

—  Freedman Bureau Records (marriage, savings and trust company, branch offices)

—  Newspapers and Historical Societies

—  Join listserv’s (rootsweb, afrigeneas)

—  Plantation Records-family holdings

—  Emancipation papers (freeing a person from someone else)

—  Slave narratives, families genealogy records

—  Plantation records (check out Edward Ball’s book)

—  City and County directories

—  Public notices or records, local courthouse and city hall’s

—  Find resources where Slave research has been successful…

Online Resources













Virginia Slave Records


—  Limited Slave records in VA collected by P. A. Miller (by county):

—  Runaway records-


Guidebooks listed by

—  Byers, Paula K. African American Genealogical Sourcebook. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

—  Redford, Dorothy Spruill. Somerset Homecoming: Recovering A Lost Heritage. New York: Doubleday, 1988. (Not a guidebook, but provides step by step what the research is like.)

—  Woodtor, Dee Parmer. Finding A Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity. New York: Random House,1999.

—  Young, Tommie M. Afro-American Genealogy Sourcebook. New York: Garland, 1987.

2/15/08 List taken from

Bringing it all together

—  Tell the story, Tell your story

—  Write a timeline and biography

—  Share your findings



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