Ever wondered what great-grandma’s hometown in Ireland looked like? Google the town. Need to know if a historical figure has ties to your family history? Google his or her biography. Is that disease great-grandmother and her sister died of hereditary? Google the disease. Where did grandma get that crazy teapot? Google the manufacturer’s name that is on the bottom and add some descriptive keywords. In many cases, the answers to questions like these are just a few clicks away.
African American family historians face unique challenges when it comes to researching their familyâ€™s past. During periods of discrimination, not only were African Americans segregated from their white counterparts, their records were sometimes also segregated. While beginning research for descendants of slaves may utilize similar records as those of other Americans, once they hit 1870, the search becomes much more complicated–but not impossible.
As with any family history research, one of the keys to success is laying a good foundation. Be sure to exhaust all home sources and interview every family member you can so that you can begin your search with as much information as possible. Ancestry.com has a growing collection of African American records that can help you build on that foundation.
Once youâ€™ve gathered as much information as you can from family members, seek out U.S. Census records, vital records,Â military, and as many other late nineteenth and early twentieth century records as possible. When working with microfilms and registers, keep in mind that the records of African Americans may be separate from those of white people in a â€œcoloredâ€ section toward the end of the record group. In the military, African Americans served in segregated units until the army was integrated in 1952.
There were also many free African Americans living in the United States prior to the Civil War. Tony Burroughâ€™s book, Black Roots cites the fact that there were â€œmore than 200,000 free Blacks living in the North and another 200,000 free in the South prior to the Civil War.â€
In addition to core collections like directories, census, vital, and military records, here are a few collections available at Ancestry that youâ€™ll want to search.
U.S. Freedmanâ€™s Bank Records, 1865-1874
The year 1865 found many African American Civil War veterans and ex-slaves with money in their pockets and there was a need for an institution where they could save their money. The Freedmanâ€™s Savings and Trust Company (often referred to as the Freedmanâ€™s Bank) was incorporated on 03 March 1865 to meet that need. Unfortunately mismanagement and fraud led to the failure of that institution in 1874 wiping out the savings of many African Americans. While some were eventually able to recover about two-thirds of their savings, many never got any of their money back.
The signature registers of the Freedmanâ€™s Bank were preserved and eventually wound up in the National Archives, and in 2005, Ancestry.com indexed these records and made the index and images available to members. For purposes of identification, these registers asked personal questions of the account holder and as a result, many contain a goldmine of information regarding family structure. Names of spouses, children, parents, siblings, and even aunts and uncles can be found on the signature registers. Other information may include physical description, place of birth, residences, occupation, employer, and some earlier records will even include the names of former slave owners–a critical piece of information for tracing a slave beyond the Civil War. For more information, see the Prologue article on the National Archives website by Reginald Washington.
Below isÂ a sample signature register. Click on the image to enlarge it.
In the years before the Internet and computers, people seeking to make connections with others who share research interests would post queries in genealogical periodicals. When family history met the Internet, one of the most popular tools available to genealogists were message boards.
The message boards on Ancestry go back more than ten years and there are currently 17 Million posts on more than 161,000 boards. Have you checked to see whether there is information on the message boards for your family?
Searching the Message Boards
The Message Boards can be found on the Community tab at Ancestry.com. From there you can search for a surname, place or topic, or browse the boards alphabetically. The search function is in most cases the easiest, unless youâ€™re searching for a name that could refer to something else. For example, one of my family names is Poland. When I search for that, I end up with a bunch of hits referring to the country Poland. By browsing alphabetically, I can be sure to end up on the correct message board without wading through hundreds of posts by people researching an ancestor from Poland.
Once you locate a message board of interest, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the number of posts. You can choose to search that surname board adding in a given name or a location to narrow it down to just the posts that are relevant to your search. Continue reading
The challenge of blurred or just plain sloppy handwriting in old records is one that has plagued genealogists for centuries. One trick for deciphering a hard to read character or word is to retrace it. Enlarge the word and then print it. Then trace over it with a pencil. Sometimes by retracing the lines youâ€™ll be able to figure out the letters.
Institutional Records at the State Historical Society
My father’s family had all been placed in state homes and the mother institutionalized. I found one Aunt in Minnesota. I wanted to know more about the circumstance surrounding why they had been taken away from their parents. My father had told stories that he knew. For years I kept most of the stories in my head and a few years back began to search for them. I found a lot of them thanks to ancestry, but the story was yet to be found. I found the institution where they had lived was closed in 1976 (Sparta Wisconsin) and after a trip back there found all the records were placed in boxes and were stored at the State Historical Society. It took a copy of my fathers death Certificate and communication with the head historian to find some of the answers. Now I have a much better understanding of what took place back then and the laws of the times.
Maybe this will help someone else.
Susan Continue reading
The year was 1861 and in addition to Kansas joining the United States as a free state, the territories of Dakota, Nevada and Arizona were all formed, even as the Confederate States of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky followed South Carolina in seceding from the Union.
The Confederacy was taking shape, and before Abraham Lincoln even took the oath of office, Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as the president of the Confederacy.
As the president-elect made his way to Washington on the now-famous train trip, conspirators in Baltimore were planning to assassinate him as he passed through that city. Fortunately, the famous detective Allan Pinkerton had several agents who had infiltrated some of the more inflammatory elements of Baltimore society and were able to relay the details of the plot to President Lincoln and convince him to alter his plans. After fulfilling his engagement in Harrisburg, Lincoln was secretly conveyed to an earlier train that would pass through Baltimore safely the night before his scheduled arrival. As an added precaution, before he left Harrisburg, at Pinkerton’s insistence, telegraph communications from Harrisburg were cut off until Lincoln’s safe arrival in the capital to preclude the possibility that the change in plans be passed on to the assassins. For more information on the “Baltimore Plot,” see this article from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1868.
A little more than a month after President Lincoln took office, the first shots of the Civil War were fired when Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter, where federal troops were stationed in Charleston Harbor.
As the war got underway, it became clear that money would be needed to fund the war and so legislation was passed creating the first income tax–3% on incomes more than $800. This tax was never put to use, but the following year, Congress passed follow-up legislation that placed a 3% tax on incomes be $600 and $10,000 and 5% on incomes greater than $10,000. It was increased in 1864 to 5% on incomes between $600 and $5,000, 7.5% for those earning between $5,000 and $10,000, and 10% for those making more than $10,000.Â The income tax was declared unconstitutional in 1872, but many of the Tax Assessments created by this brief income tax are now available online at Ancestry.com for members with a U.S. Deluxe membership. Click here to search and view images of the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry.
While the United States was being torn apart by the Civil War, the Kingdom of Italy was unified under the rule of Victor Emanuel II in 1861. However, Rome remained under French protection and Venetia was under Austrian control.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, a tenement building suddenly collapsed trapping fifty people in the rubble. Thirty-five of the victims died, and just as rescuers were giving up hope a voice from the rubble cried out “Heave awa’ lads, I’m no dead yet!” The site is memorialized with a plaque that includes those words.
Click on an image to enlarge it.
Contributed by Patricia Spiegel
This is a photo of my dad, Norbert Spiegel (age 16) taken in 1931 dressed as “Spiegel the Great” for his magic act.Â He toured local theatres in the Batesville, Indiana area performing on stage before the beginning of the movie.Â He is shown with his assistants–on the left his brother Bill and a school friend, Al Wermer.Â The greatest thrill of Norb’s life was meeting the great Harry Blackstone and shaking his hand.
World Deluxe Collection
- Wallonia, Belgium Births, 1580-1796 (in French)Â
- Wallonia, Belgium Marriages, 1580-1796 (in French)Â
- Wallonia, Belgium Deaths, 1580-1796 (in French)
Have you located a record that might interest another family member? Why not take a couple of minutes to share it? You can share images youâ€™ve found on Ancestry by clicking on the share icon on the right-hand side of the image viewer. Even if the person you are sharing it with is not a member of Ancestry, they can view the image through a link in the generated e-mail for thirty days. By keeping the lines of communication open, you are staying connected with family members who may be able to help you out with your research down the road. And who knows, they may respond with an important memory that the record prompted. Try it!