The names of enslaved people in the United States were rarely recorded. This can make researching your African American ancestors hard. It is not impossible, because there are many resources available to help you in your search at the BPL and beyond.
Books at the BPL
Here are some books covering different aspects of researching your African American ancestors. Topics include slavery, interaction with Native Americans, and the Revolutionary War.
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This list includes books containing guidance for researching African American ancestors from specific locations, as well as books about the history of areas populated by African Americans.
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The Freedmen's Bureau
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as "The Freedmen's Bureau," was in operation from 1865 to 1872. Its purpose was to provide assistance to recently freed slaves and their families. The U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau records can help to provide a link between the pre- and post-Civil War records of African American ancestors.
- Discover Freedmen - Searchable images of Freedmen's Bureau records, by FamilySearch.org in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum.
- African American Records: Freedmen's Bureau - From NARA, includes information about how the Freedman's Bureau functioned, descriptions of collections within the records, and links to digital images
United States Census Records
Census records are often a useful resource in researching ancestors. While information for slaves was not fully recorded, information for free black Americans was included in the Census prior to the end of the Civil War. The 1870 Census was the first U.S. Census to include the names of all African Americans recorded by the census takers. It serves as an important link between pre- and post-Civil War records.
- List of Free Black Heads of Families in 1st Census of United States, 1790 [with Bibliography] - Book held by the BPL, must be requested at the Research Services Department on the second floor of the Central Library in Copley Square
- United States Census, 1870 - From FamilySearch.org, includes searchable digital images of the 1870 Census
- African American Genealogy - From the New England Historic Genealogical Society, includes links to available record collections (registration for free account required)
- African American Genealogy - From FamilySearch.org, includes links to online record collections
- African American Genealogy - From the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, includes suggested books and other recommended resources
- Roots Revealed: Viewing African American History Through a Genealogical Lens - A blog with guidance on researching African American family history
- African American Research - From NARA, includes links to featured records, blog posts, articles, and related subject portals
- African Americans - Reference Reports - From NARA: African American Reference Reports describe research strategies for some of the most frequently used records relating to African American genealogy, including service in the United States Colored Troops (USCT), Buffalo soldiers, District of Columbia emancipation records, the Freedmen's Bureau, Freedman's Bank, and WPA Slave Narratives.
- Digital Library on American Slavery - From University of North Carolina Greensboro, includes court and legislative documents, information on 35,000 slave-trade voyages, and North Carolina runaway-slave advertisements and deeds.
- International African American Museum Center for Family History - Includes photos, videos, articles, a helpful blog, and a growing collection of funeral programs, obituaries, historical documents, and family histories.
- The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) - A searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and enslavers in the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
- Umbra Search: African American History - Over 700,000 items from more than 1,000 U.S. archives, libraries, and museums.
- Slave Voyages - Includes databases charting Trans-Atlantic and Intra-American slave trades.
- Lowcountry Africana: African American Genealogy in SC, GA and FL - A free website dedicated to African American genealogy and history in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida
- Genealogy - Resources from the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society
- Resources - From the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society – New England Chapter
- Our Black Ancestry - A non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources for African American genealogical research, preserving historic materials and properties, and promoting healing of wounds that are the legacy of slavery