This blog series provides information on how to conduct family research — with a special focus on challenges that apply for African Americans.
It is amazing how much interest in family history has grown in recent years. Statistics say that 73% of the US population is interested in genealogy and over 80 million people are actively searching online. African Americans are lately getting on the bandwagon.
Ninety percent of African Americans are descended from people who were enslaved. Our cultural ties to our homelands in Africa were broken, which means we don’t know where we came from. Our family ties were severed, which means we don’t know many of the people to whom we are related.
Only five percent (approximately 500,000) of people kidnapped from Africa were enslaved in America. That number grew to almost four million people who were officially released from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It took a Civil War to enforce it. And, it was not until 1868, when the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law, that we were acknowledged as citizens. Clearly, there is much we need to know, not only about our ancestors but about the times in which they lived.
A good genealogist also needs to be an avid historian.
My research has been particularly challenging and yours will be too. Many African Americans can’t trace back past 1870. That was the year of the first Federal census that recorded African Americans as people (rather than property), with surnames and families. Before that, we were just ticks on a slave schedule.
Here is a sample slave schedule: