In honor of Black History Month 2011, we are releasing or updating 9 collections relative to African-American family history research and this year’s theme: African Americans and the Civil War. You can find the new additions, from more compiled service records for U.S. Colored Troops to recently indexed slave manifests from Savannah and New Orleans, and search all our African-American records here.
We also thought this would be a great chance to share some success stories we’ve heard lately from people researching their own African-American ancestry.
The 1870 census is a significant one for African-American family history research, the first that would list millions of black men and women by name.
In fact, names were the first thing Kevin Wilson learned when he found his 4x-great-grandparents, Samuel and Sophia Hodo, in the 1870 census in Jefferson County, Arkansas.
While old family portraits had been handed down from generation to generation, Kevin explains, somewhere along the way “the names of Samuel and Sophia had somehow been forgotten.” Columns 8, 16, and 17 of the census also confirmed the family oral traditions that said the Hodos “were landowners and that the men of the family were able to read and write.”
The Jefferson County location from the census led Kevin to Samuel’s 1877 will, which, Kevin says, “provided great insight into his economic status, family relationships and close relationship with a prominent white man and former slave holder in the community.”
It also provided coordinates for the family’s 120 acres of land. With those coordinates and a 1905 map from the U.S. County Land Ownership Maps database, Kevin was able to locate and then visit the family’s former holdings.
The mix of farm and timberland stayed in the family for some 50 years, and Kevin is currently trying to find out how the family acquired it so soon after the Civil War and why it passed from family hands in the early 1900s.
Kevin found his Henderson relatives as well, this time among military records. A search turned up a Noah Henderson mustered in and out of Union service in eastern Tennessee in the U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records database.
The name was right, but Kevin knew of no connection between his great-great-grandfather Noah and Tennessee. Still, when this Noah turned up again in the Civil War Pension Index—filed in Arkansas, where he knew Noah and his wife, Mariah, had lived—the possibility of this being his Noah made it worth ordering the pension application file from the National Archives.
Kevin’s reward for following the hunches was a file of more than 100 pages and a host of new details about his great-great-grandfather’s life, from how Noah got from Tennessee to Arkansas to where he met his wife. He even knows now that Noah took his son, Kevin’s great-grandfather James, to the circus on the day he died.
So if you’re just starting your family’s research, take a look at the African-American records on Ancestry.com. Or if you’ve been at it for a while, look again at some of the updates and new additions. You never know where a record might lead. Just ask Kevin Wilson.