For African American genealogists, finding black family search engines can be a challenge. There are some excellent sources that may help unlock the doors to the past.
African Americans may have a hard time researching their family lineage. The tragedy of slavery separated families kept slaves anonymous in records and obscured family origins. Further difficulties arose when slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Many newly freed men changed their names and moved to new locations. All these events make tracing a family tree more difficult.
There are many success stories, however, for black family researchers. The most famous success was Alex Haley's book, Roots. This saga awoke a genealogy interest for many African Americans. The computer and Internet age contributed greatly to the resources available to black researchers.
Black Family Search Engines
Certainly African American family historians use many of the same search engines and databases as their white, Asian and Native American counterparts. It is the uniqueness of the African American experience, however, that has spawned a number of specific databases just for black genealogy. These cover both pre- and post-Civil war times.
Afrigeneas is a website dedicated to African American genealogy. The site has how-to information, a forum and a search engine. It has several helpful databases, including:
- Death records
- Marriage records
- Slave information
- Census records
The site is free to all users. You must register, however, to post any of your own family information.
Many black family researchers use the 1850 and 1860 slave censuses for clues about their ancestors. These censuses do not list slave names. Instead, each slaveholder was listed with a list of the slaves by gender and age.
The Freedmen's Bureau was established by the Federal Government in 1865 to aid newly freed slaves with food, clothing and medical treatment. It also developed employment and educational opportunities for the former slaves. While it was abolished in 1872, most of its work was accomplished between 1865 and 1868. Many of the records have survived and are excellent sources for genealogists. Some sites with these records include:
- Freedmen's Bureau Online has transcription of records from various locations
- Family Search Record Search has two databases of Freedmen's Bureau records: Virginia marriages 1815-1866, which includes marriage prior to emancipation; and the Freedmen's Bank Registers 1865-1874 containing information on approximately 62,000 individuals.
- Heritage Quest, a subscription site, also has a searchable database of Freedmen's Bureau bank records.
African American Cemeteries
African American Cemeteries is a genealogy website containing a database and listings of African American cemeteries. Contributors from across the country have submitted the names of those buried in the cemeteries.
Locality Specific Sites
Several websites have African American information for a specific city or state. Some of these include:
- The Wallace Roll of Cherokee Freedmen in Indian Territory
- St. Louis Circuit Court Freedom Suits Case Files, 1814-1860
These are just a few of the many black family search engines and databases available to researchers. You can check Cyndi's List of Genealogical Sites on the Internet for other possibilities.