News From Terre Haute, Indiana


January 5, 2008

Genealogy: These steps can help you trace your African roots



Before you can get your research back to colonial America, you must first continue to go backward through Reconstruction, the Civil War and into antebellum slavery. Transitional records include the records of the Freedman’s Bureau, Freedman’s Savings and Trust Records, and military service and pension records for Civil War Colored Troops fighting for the Union.

Although slaves did not have surnames, about 15 percent took the name of their last owner. Others took the name of an admired person, such as Washington or Lincoln. Some had secret surnames that they had been using among themselves all along. Some took a surname like “Freeman,” to describe their new status.

To make your slave connection, you have to be able to identify the slave owner and follow his activities. You have to follow his history as if it is your own, because in many ways it is. Search for the slave owner on the census and in local, state and county records. But since slaves were property, your focus will change. Follow the transactions involving slaves in the owner’s deeds, wills, tax and probate records, as well as plantation records, if available. A slave on the census will not be listed by name, but will be recorded by their gender and age category.

Next week, we’ll continue with strategies on making the slave connection.

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    March 12, 2010