Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 9, Number 8 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 May 10, 2017
Publisher's Notes In this article, we discuss finding African American females. Sometimes it is really difficult to find their names, especially in the earlier years. It takes dedication and patience to find documents with their names, but it is definitely worth it when you find them.
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James L. Douthat
RESEARCHING AFRICAN AMERICAN FEMALES
In all of the genealogical research I’ve done over the last sixty years, it has been nearly impossible to find the names of African American females. These names just were not written down for the most part in record keeping. It is only in the 20th century that many of the names have appeared.
Before the Civil War, if the family were free blacks it is somewhat easier to find names. With free blacks, they are included in many of the census records such as the 1850, 1860, etc. These are counted just as the whites. In the earlier census, they are included just as the whites with only the head of the household being listed. In the 1840 census, if there was a veteran living in the household, there might have been another name given, but this probably would be the name of a male member of that family.
In many cases, the owner kept records and the name might appear in those records. First, you have to know the name of the owner. Since some blacks did not take the name of their owner, then we have to dig really deep for the information. There are several sources that might help, especially in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. In 1853, these three states began keeping birth records on a volunteer basis. When a slave child was born, one of the quickest ways to establish ownership was to list the child’s birth in official court records. The child is given in the county birth records of these three states with the name of the mother and the name of the owner given as the father. I know what you are thinking, and yes, some of them probably were the father. This was not uncommon and is a sorry comment on our southern heritage and culture.
The above is just one way to find a name. Another possibility is via the deed and will records of the white family. In the period before the Civil War, since blacks were unfortunately considered property, they would be part of the estate that is divided in the distribution of that property. A will designates in most cases where each slave will be placed in that distribution. You have to follow the genealogy of the family of owners throughout their history at this time also. In some cases where there was a large number of slaves, the names might not be given, but just that “...three males slaves and two female are given to my son John when he becomes of age...”. In a number of Tennessee counties, we have found that at the owner’s death, the slaves are given a choice of being freed to return to Liberia, at the owner’s expense or sold to person of their choice.
By the time of the Civil War, the 1870 as well as subsequent census lists the names of the blacks and whites as they should be in the order of the agenda of the census. Then the search for the names is made simpler.
In the search for the African American females, you might want to consult two different web sites. The first is the one for Free African Americans, of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware - Free African Americans. The contents of this web site is taken from the book by that name and uses sources such as court orders, tax lists, wills, deeds, pension files, and others. The second web site is Free African Americans in North Carolina before the Civil War. Here again, the usual sources are followed for the information.
After the Civil War, the search is much easier as there were organizations that assisted the African Americans in establishing a life in society. The Freedman’s Bureau was established to assist blacks and poor whites with food, clothing, hospitals and help in locating family members, education, land ownership and other assistance needed to establish a free and prosperous life. These Freedmen’s Bureau records are readily available in many libraries or archives around the county.
Some of the better web sites for use in this search are:
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