10 Free Resources for Researching Your African American Ancestors

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10 Free Resources for Researching Your African American Ancestors

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Anyone who has researched their African American ancestors knows what a challenge it can be, but as interest in family history research continues to grow more and more free resources are available to help you on your quest.

If you are new to African American genealogy research, or have a hit a roadblock, we suggest that you take some time to read this very helpful guide from FamilySearch before going any further. It will walk you though research from 1870 forward. FamilySearch also provides some helpful tips in their Quick Guide to African American research. It’s worth a read.

Here are just a few of the tips provided by that guide, with some additional notes:

  • Study the lives of all family members, including aunts, uncles, and cousins—not just your direct ancestors. This will help increase the possibility of finding needed details in the records.
  • Look for changing surnames, as some African Americans changed surnames several times. If you can’t find your family in a census record, but you know the family’s location at the time of the census, look for first names and approximate ages of family members. You may find a match. Free African Americans were included in the both the 1850 and 1860 census by name, whereas slaves were listed only by gender and age in the Slave Schedules (these can be found on FamilySearch). From 1870, African Americans were finally included by name.
  • If your ancestor is not listed in an index of a collection, check the original records anyway. Some indexes do not include African Americans.
  • Understand that some old records may have described your ancestor in terms that are disturbing. This may be very hard to read.

Below we have listed a collection of free online resources for researching African American ancestors specifically – such as the databases of Freedman’s Bureau (which we have included individually for convenience). Remember that you will also find your ancestors in many general collections as well. You can find many more helpful free resources here and here.

African American Genealogy: 10 Free Resources for Finding Your Ancestors

1. Civil War African American Sailor Search

2. Freedman’s Bureau Bank Records


3. African American Funeral Programs

4. Freedman’s Bureau Hospital and Medical Records

5. Freedman’s Bureau Marriages

6. National Archives African American Research Help Page

7. Civil War Service Records of African American Union Troops

8. Black Servicemen Revolutionary War Records

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9. Fugitive Slave Petition Books

10. North American Slave Narratives

Image: African American family posed for portrait seated on lawn. 1899 or 1900. Library of Congress.

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