Free Resources for African-American Research

In honor of Black History Month, I thought I'd share some free resources for researching African-American ancestors.

Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism

An excellent timeline, complete with references, has been published online by Eddie Becker of Holt House as the Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism. It is broken up into three sections: 1619 to 1789, 1790 to 1829 and 1830 to the end (which appears to be the 1990s).

This is one of the best timelines I've come across by far. It covers laws regarding slavery, historical background, the spread of slavery, the civil rights movement, literature and more.

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A collection by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and University of Virginia documents the lives of slaves through images. The collection is broken down into 18 sections including maps, plantation life, military activities and portraits, just to name a few. Sources and comments are given for each image.

Lowcountry Africana

Lowcountry Africana is dedicated to documenting the people and culture of South Carolina, Georgia and northwest Florida. The site is an amazing resource for individuals doing genealogy research of African American ancestors from the area. It offers a research library, helpful information on researching, resources by state and a records search function.

If you would like to aid others researching African American genealogy, sign up for the Restore the Ancestors Project. Through a partnership between Lowcountry Africana, Fold3, the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, and FamilySearch, researchers can search and view the South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale for free at Fold3. Not all of the records have been indexed yet so volunteers are needed to help make more of the records searchable. Have you done your ten yet?

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What Locking Myself In Taught Me About Genealogy

This morning I did one of those things that are frustrating at the time, but funny in hindsight. I went in to straighten up my daughter's room and shut the door to keep our dogs out, completely forgetting the door has a malfunctioning doorknob. From the outside of the room, the knob works correctly. From the inside of the room, the knob turns but doesn't release the latch. Needless to say, since I was inside the room when I shut the door, I was stuck.

To make things even worse, my husband is out of town working right now. So it wasn't like I could call him to come home and let me out. Of course, I called him anyway, not because I wanted him to spend the day driving back to rescue me, but because I thought he might have an idea. Climbing out the window wasn't really an option because it's a pretty good drop to the ground and I'd then have to deal with being locked out of the house.

His solution: pop the lock with a screwdriver or butter knife. On the surface, this sounds simple, but there was a problem. Did you see it? I was locked in our five year old daughter's bedroom. I don't know about you, but I personally don't store items like that in my child's room. A screwdriver in my bedroom, sure, but not in hers.

While he was pouting about my veto of his idea thinking up another idea, I was searching the bedroom in the hopes of finding something I could use. In the top of the closet, I found her microscope case so I decided to check it to see if it had anything I could use. I found a small plastic spatula.


It was thin enough to do the job, but I was concerned about it breaking in the process because it was pretty flimsy. Since I was stuck in a room with no food or drink and a rapidly dwindling cell phone battery, I gave it a shot. About the time my husband came up with an alternate idea (having a neighbor pass me a screwdriver through the window), the lock popped open and I was free.


So what does all this have to do with genealogy?


As family historians, sometimes the tool we need to get information just isn't there. Registration of vital records may not have been implemented yet. The record may have been lost to fire, natural disaster or time. The records may be hidden away in a closet just waiting for someone to find them.


Just because the record you need isn't available doesn't mean all is lost. You have to look to alternate sources. Just like the flimsy plastic spatula worked in place of a screwdriver, you may be able to use another record source to get the information you seek. It may not be as strong in terms of evidence, but it can work in a pinch.

I've listed some suggested alternate sources below.



Births
Birth announcement
Obituary

Family Bible
Draft record
Pension record
Headstone
Baptism/christening record
Marriage record
Death record
Social Security Death Index



Marriages
Marriage announcement
Obituary

Family Bible
Headstone
Pension record



Deaths
Obituary
Spouse's obituary
Family Bible
Headstone
Cemetery/funeral home record
Pension record
Military record
Will/probate record
Social Security Death Index 


Parents' Names
Records for younger siblings
Marriage record
Death record
Obituary
Social security card application
Headstone


Maiden Names
Vital records for children
Marriage announcement
Death record
Obituary
Social security card application
Headstone

Are you stuck because you're only looking for the record that traditionally has the information? What other alternate sources have you used for your genealogy research?

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Gearing Up for the 1940 Census

In just a few more months, the 1940 census will released. It won't be indexed, although I'm sure several genealogy websites will begin immediately. Unless you're satisfied waiting until indexing is complete, it's time to start preparing so you can extend your lines.

Make a list of individuals you wish to find in the 1940 census. This should include people that you found in the 1930 census that should still be living as well as anyone born between 1930 and 1940. Don't forget to include female children from the 1930 census who may now be married. If you haven't check to see if they're married yet, now is the time to do it..

Determine a probable location. In families that tended to stay in the same place, this will be easier than with families or individuals that frequently moved. For frequent movers, check city directories, WWII Draft Records, and records of vital records or immigration that occurred close to 1940. This can help narrow down possible locations to search.

Find the enumeration district. If the person appeared in the 1930 census and you're relatively sure they didn't move by 1940, you can use Steve Morse's Census ED Converter. If you have an exact address from another source (aren't you lucky?), you can use the ED Finder or ED Definition tool at the top of that page.

Make your list. Put it in whatever format you prefer-a handwritten list, a Word document or a spreadsheet. I would suggest grouping individuals by location to make your search a little easier when the census is released. It's more efficient to locate all wanted individuals in a single area rather than jumping back and forth.

A final note. If you haven't yet volunteered in the genealogy community, this is your chance to give back in a big way. FamilySearch is seeking volunteers to index the census.

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