Online Archives We Love .... And Why
Where We Go for Info, Photos and Sound Recordings
In the course of our research (and Internet ramblings), we have run across many valuable archives that are virtual treasure troves of information on African American genealogy and history.
We thought it might be fun to share with you the Internet sites that we refer to most, for information, pictures and sound recordings. All of the websites listed here offer absolutely free access to all of their records.
Please enjoy, and if you know of other valuable online archives, please do let us know about them at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Image: Orange Picker's Daughter, Daytona, FL
With Kind Permission of the Florida State Archives Online.
General Genealogy Sources
There are several general genealogy sources that are absolutely essential to this research. Our number one choice is always the The USGenWeb Project. Entirely volunteer driven, the USGenWeb Project gathers and shares the largest and richest assortment of genealogy and history records on the Internet, anywhere. There are two separate branches of The USGenWeb Project: the USGenWeb State Pages and the USGenWeb Archives. The Project's State Pages are where you can find state and county level records, as well as articles on local history, maps and photographs. The USGenWeb Archives are an extensive collection of individual records such as census, wills, probates, deeds, cemetery listings and other records that are essential to rediscovering African American heritage. The USGenWeb is always our first resort for information on genealogy and history!
Another essential resource is Rootsweb, the free component to Ancestry.com. Rootsweb hosts the USGenWeb Archives, as well as many other free genealogy websites, including personal pages where researchers share their family research. Once you have identified a possible slaveholder, the WorldConnect Family Trees at Rootsweb.com are a good starting point for learning about the slaveholder's history, migrations and collateral surnames. While there are many family trees posted there without sources, if you view the files which are backed up by documentary evidence, you can find useful leads for beginning your search. Much of our research on Charleston Slave Trader Alonzo White began with information we gathered from family trees posted on Rootsweb.
Another excellent (and perhaps under-utilized) source of free genealogy records is The Olive Tree. Site creator Lorine McGinnis Schulze has collected a mind-boggling 1,700 free genealogy pages that contain free databases and a wealth of information for the USA, Canada and other parts of the globe. Tutorials, help files and resource guides will help you navigate this stunning array of free pages.
Linkpendium is an excellent tool for locating county level resources. Created by the original founders of Rootsweb, this site gathers links for genealogy records scattered far and wide on the Internet, and compiles and displays them by county and state. Because Linkpendium gathers resources from the far corners of the Internet, it is an excellent starting point for Internet research. The more than six million links at Linkpendium will help you to pinpoint the county level resources that you need!
The Political Graveyard is an excellent source of information on slaveholders who were political figures (as so many were). Here you will find biographical sketches that may provide valuable leads to further your research.
Perhaps the best-kept secrets of genealogical research are the Digital Archives and Manuscripts at the Library of Virginia, where you will find an array of documents pertaining to slaves and slaveholders. The Digital Archives alone have more than 6,000 family Bible record images available online, while the Manuscript collection offers images and transcriptions you will not find elsewhere. Because so many southern slaveholding families originated in Virginia, this collection is a must-see.
African American Genealogy Research
The essential starting point for identifying slaveholders is The Large Slaveholder Project . Tom Blake, the site creator, has estimated that in 1860, slaveholders of 200 or more slaves, while constituting less than 1 % of the total number of U.S. slaveholders, or 1 out of 7,000 free persons, held 20-30% of the total number of slaves in the U.S.
Tom has spent many years identifying the largest slaveholders on the 1860 Federal Census, and matching those surnames to African American households listed in the 1870 census; the first to enumerate freedpersons who were former slaves. Tom's work has been the cornerstone for much of the African American genealogical research presented on the Internet today.
The absolute Mother Ship of African American ancestral research, Afrigeneas, maintains The Afrigeneas Slave Data Collection, a database of submitted and gathered records that name slaves and slaveholders. They have recently added a death records database which contains 17,738 African American death records. Afrigeneas also is an essential starting point for tutorials on researching African and African American ancestry. Here you will also find message boards and mailing lists to keep you connected to others who are researching their ancestry.
We're very excited about the all-new U.S. African American Griots website. This project of the USGenWeb Special Collections is dedicated to assisting all those in pursuit of African American Ancestry and History in the United States by being a valuable resource and repository for African American documents of historical proportion. You may submit records to help their archives grow!
Another under-utilized source of information on southern slaves and slaveholders is the Slave Era Insurance Registry. Records were discovered in the archives of insurance companies that document insurance policies taken out by slaveholders and companies against the injury or death of slaves, and the California Legislature passed legislation requiring full disclosure of these records.
Although this website originates in California, it lists the names of slaves and slaveholders throughout the United States. There are two lists, the Slave Era Insurance Registry: List of Slaves and the Slave Era Insurance Registry: List of Slaveholders. This extensive database can provide otherwise obscure information for the genealogy researcher. The State of Illinois has now posted similar data for that state at Slavery Era Insurance Policies Registry.
Another essential source for information on slaves and slaveholders is Sankofa's African Slave Genealogy, an information-packed site with a growing collection of data on all aspects of the slave trade. The comprehensive database called Slave Workplaces, devoted to antebellum plantations, farms, factories, manors, etc., is fully searchable. Readers may contribute information to the slave workplace database records via the new wiki format that allows data entry and editing from multiple sources. So it is easier than ever to share information you run across in your family research! To access (and contribute to!) the new wiki database, please follow www.sankofagen.com.
The Freedman's Bureau Online contains many valuable records, as well as a comprehensive overview of the Freedman's Bureau history, the Reconstruction Era, labor contracts and other aspects of African American life after Emancipation. This site is a must for Post-Emancipation research.
Cyndi's List is an exhaustive archive of Internet links pertaining to a wide variety of topics, including African American genealogy and history. The link databases are constantly updated, to bring you new and timely links, as well as classic and essential links.
Please be sure to visit Eleanor's Links, on our website, to see Eleanor's extensive list of recommended sites. Eleanor is constantly combing the Internet to provide you with a list of all that's new as well as all that's essential for your research!
Christine's Genealogy Website offers news, articles, databases and links to keep your research on track.
African American/Native American Research
The abolutely essential starting point for African/Native American genealogy and history research is The African-Native American History & Genealogy Webpage. This massive website contains documents on the history and genealogy of African/Native Americans, as well as full texts of treaties and an extensive list of external links to get your research started.
Black Loyalists in the American Revolution
If you are searching for information about ancestors who escaped from plantations during the American Revolution, the Black Loyalist website from Canada's Digital Collections is the place to begin. This engaging website presents a detailed account of the struggles black Loyalists faced as they cast their lots with retreating British forces and migrated to Canada. The site contains transcriptions of many historical documents that list the names of black Loyalists. Most important is a complete transcription of the Book of Negroes (the list of Loyalists evacuated from New York to Nova Scotia in British ships, in 1783), presented for the first time online. Only three print copies of the Book of Negroes remain, in widely scattered archives. Online access to this essential reference will no doubt open important new avenues of heritage research.
The Remembering Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia exhibit from the Nova Scotia Museum examines the people, places, objects and events that shaped the history of the more than 3,000 Black persons who migrated from the United States to Nova Scotia as a result of the American Revolution.
Free African Americans
Author Paul Heinegg's published works Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina and Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware have long been the essential resources for researching free African Americans in the age of slavery. Now, on the website Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, Heinegg shares the entire body of his published research online, placing volumes of new information in the hands of those researching free African Americans. (For those of us who are still paper-based, the site also contains a link for ordering print copies.)
Maps and Land Records
Government land records can provide many starting points for locating your ancestors. Government Land Office Records Search offers online images and parcel descriptions of land records dating from the 1800s to the present.
Map archives can help you to pinpoint, and learn more about, the places where your ancestors were born, and where they lived. Two extensive collections of online maps are the United States Digital Map Library at the USGenWeb Project and the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Both sites contain beautiful high resolution maps for you to download and print.
African American History and Culture
Our number one source of information on African American history and culture is the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress. We cannot say enough about this vast collection of documents, photographs, sound recordings, sheet music, maps and other records of African American history and culture.
The photo collection is full of stunning and ethereal images of beautiful African American faces. (Many of the photos that you see on our pages are from this collection.) Here you will find sound recordings of interviews, gospel, blues and other music, and even some film clips. A collection of lesson plans and study guides will help educators to navigate the collections and find materials to share with students.
History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web is a rich source of primary historical documents, and guides to analyzing historical evidence. Designed for high school and college teachers and students of U.S. history survey courses, this site serves as a gateway to web resources as well.
The University of Virginia has compiled American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology, "a sweeping composite view of slavery in North America, allowing us to explore some of the most compelling themes of nineteenth-century slavery, including labor, resistance and flight, family life, relations with masters, and religious belief." Visitors can read the narratives, view some of the pictures that were taken during the WPA Slave Narrative interviews, and access a list of related resources both on and offsite.
The Third Person, First Person: Slave Voices From The Special Collections Library exhibit at Duke University further personalizes African American history by bringing individual life experiences of American slaves into focus. This engaging exhbit demonstrates how historical documents may be used to examine the "ambitions, motivations, and struggles of people often presumed mute."
We're also in love with Footsteps Magazine Online. FOOTSTEPS is a magazine designed for young people, their parents, and other individuals interested in discovering the scope, substance, and many often unheralded facts of African American heritage. It is an excellent classroom resource for teachers, a valuable research tool for students, and an important vehicle for bringing this rich heritage to people of all backgrounds. A must-see!
Information on Cemetery Preservation
More and more citizens are becoming concerned that historic cemeteries (especially African American cemeteries) are being endangered by development or lack of maintenance. If you are concerned about cemetery preservation in your community, please read our article "Cemetery Preservation: A Growing Concern". Two related offsite resources are the Grave Matters Brochure from the Chicora Foundation and The Saving Graves Learning Lab. The Grave Matters brochure points out important differences between European American and African American cemeteries, and the Saving Graves Learning Lab is an incredible collection of articles on every aspect of cemetery preservation, from gathering support in your community, to actually restoring headstones, iron work and gravestone foundations.
The Cemetery Preservation website from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History offers resources and advice for preserving endangered cemeteries. Their Maintenance & Restoration page features printable booklets that will help you manage your cemetery restoration project. Finally, the Association for Gravestone Studies website provides insight on the historical and artistic significance of gravemarkers.
The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery project and website are an inspiring example of what a handful of dedicated volunteers can accomplish. The website also features a rich document collection of primary source data relating to Alexandria's African American community of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
State Level Archives We Love
Many state level archives contain extensive record collections that you can access for free. Here are some that we visit most often, and recommend highly!
The Alachua County Clerk of Court Ancient Records archive is our absolute favorite Florida resource. Although it contains information on north and central Florida only, it offers a stunning 141,812 Page Images of deeds, wills, probate records, court records, land records and other primary documents that bring to life African American history and genealogy in Florida. 4,589 pages have been transcribed from document images (with the help of a small handful of dedicated volunteers)! This site is an excellent source of primary document images for educators as well.
The USF Special Collections Department Online offers the entire full text collection of articles from the Florida Historical Quarterly, that cover a wide range of topics pertaining to African American history and genealogy. You may freely download and print these articles for your research.
The Jacksonville Public Library is digitizing Jacksonville City Directories for the years 1876-1925, as part of their growing Online Special Collections. The exciting new content there promises to open new avenues for Florida research!
The Caribbean GenWeb Archives are an excellent starting point for Caribbean research; offering records, articles and links for all areas of the Caribbean. Be sure to check out Eleanor's Links on our website for many more useful Caribbean research links!
Without a doubt, the Georgia USGenWeb Archives contain the most extensive collection of records for every county in Georgia. Virginia Crilley, State File Manager, Debra Crosby, Asst State File Manager and Ken Johnson , Asst State File Manager, have worked dilligently to encourage readers to contribute records, and the result is an incredible collection of records for every county in Georgia. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to access the thousands of county level records there!
Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee
Dawn's Records and Resources Site is a powerful collection of records that website creator Dawn Watson has gathered and shared online. This site is really a hidden treasure! With only 4,200 visitors since 2001; this site is definitely under-utilized.
The Database of Servitude and Emancipation Records, Illinois is an extensive archive of records that document all aspects of slavery in Illinois. The database, offered by the Illinois State Archives, is fully searchable by a number of variables. Our sample search under race for "negro" returned 1,626 records.
The Slavery Era Insurance Policies Registry, also mentioned above, is another invaluable resource for researching African American ancestry in Illinois.
The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1719-1820 website not only contains an extensive database, but also many beautiful photo images and information about African American history in Louisiana. This is a wonderful site for educators as well.
The Maryland State Archives presents The Study of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland, a wonderful compilation of resources from the archives' holdings. Through exhibits, online interactive presentations and a growing collection of primary source documents, this website examines the rich African American heritage of Maryland. The auxillary site Beneath the Underground Railroad in Maryland includes an extensive, searchable database of documents.
The Missouri Slaves/Slaveowner Database is an incredible compendium of records, and a definite must see and starting point for Missouri research.
The Freedom Suits Case Files, 1814-1860 are a collection of 301 legal petitions for freedom by people of color originally filed in St. Louis courts between 1814 and 1860. Part of the larger St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project, they make up the largest corpus of freedom suits currently available to researchers in the United States.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online, (1841-1902) is a remarkable project of the Brooklyn Public Library. Each issue of the newspaper is reproduced in high-qaulity digital images that are easy to read and fully searchable. Family historians, scholars and educators will find a wealth of historical information here.
The Plantations of North Carolina website is a comprehensive database of various plantations derived from a variety of information mediums. This rich database contains articles, pictures, slave lists and links to offsite resources on documented plantations in North Carolina. This is a very rich source of information on North Carolina plantations.
The Afrolumens Project is dedicated to researching central Pennsylvania's African American history from the end of slavery through today's headlines, and combining the various eras into a cohesive shared history of the region. Here you will find a refreshingly balanced and fully human picture of African American history in Pennsylvania. Readers may contribute records to the archives, too.
The Pennsylvania State Archives published Pennsylvania Archives, 10 series of historical records in 135 volumes, covering Pennsylvania's history from the initial colonial settlement through the Civil War. Genealogists, scholars and historians have relied upon this collection for information on more than a century of American history. As part of a larger project to digitize historical documents housed at the National Archives, Footnote.com has digitized these records and made the entire collection available online for free. Users may download documents, create member pages and save documents to a gallery that others may view for free. Readers can also annotate documents and upload images to their galleries to further enrich the content and share research. The National Archives collection at Footnote.com are an important new resource for the Internet research community.
We could write an entire article about the online resources at the South Carolina State Archives alone. Because Charleston was a crossroads of the US slave trade, the records here document slaves in many other states. Some records even contain the African names of the slaves mentioned. The 300,242 records online here are a rich source of historical information on southern slavery as well. This is a very popular website, and occasionally the server bogs down under heavy traffic. Do not despair, just take a break and try again later, as it is definitely worth the return visit!
The exciting South-Carolina-Plantations.com is a directory of information about South Carolina plantations and the people who lived and worked on them. It includes basic data for more than 1,900 SC plantations. The entire site can be searched as well. Be sure to check it out if your research involves South Carolina or southern plantations.
Tennessee Colored Pension Applications for Civil War Service is an online index of former slaves who filed for pensions for service in the Civil War. The names were compiled by John V. Brogden using sources at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee. Additional research has been done by webmaster Willie L. Robinson.
The Circuit Court of Fredericksburg, VA has collaborated with the City of Fredericksburg, the University of Virginia and a small group of dedicated volunteers to bring you the Historic Court Records website, an online archive of apprentice records, clerk's order books, court records, inquests, marriage records, Mayor's Court records, military records, wills and more, in the holdings of the Fredericksburg Curcuit Court. The new Free Negro/Slave Records section is fully searchable and contains a treasure trove of genealogical and historical information.
The Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery website is an important new resource for data relating to Alexandria's African American community of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Volunteer research and transcription efforts continue so the project expects to add more sources to the website's already rich document collection.
A Final Word
We have enjoyed sharing our favorite online archives with you. We hope that you find some good leads here for your research. Please be sure to let us know about other online archives that should be mentioned here. We would appreciate it so much! Happy hunting and best of luck in your research from the Africana Heritage Crew!
The USF Africana Heritage Project is Sponsored by the Africana Studies Department at the University of South Florida.
Copyright 2005 The University of South Florida and The Africana Heritage Project. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
For more information, contact the Africana Heritage Project via e-mail .