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[AL] Birmingham Public Library Resources

Tips for African-American Genealogical Research


If one goes to the 1850 census on and uses keyword 'Black' for any area of the country without entering any personal name in the search engine, all the names that come up that are not surname Black, or in a place with Black in the name (e.g. Black Rock Ward 11), are the are free African Americans living in that place.

The second required step for 1850 is to do a keyword search for the letter 'M' and all the names that come up without the initial M in them are free African Americans designated as 'mulatto.' These can be pasted into a Word document. If the relevant entries are entered into an Excel database, it's possible to start manipulating the information by surname, ages, birthplace, first name, etc. For example, all the Virginia-born African American Buffalonians in 1870 can be located. The hard work is to reverse the name order in the draft database, as in the Ancestry database the full name is first/last as a single field. Doing each census separately is required, as there are different fields in each and to merge across censuses requires standardization.

There are also tricks for each census:

1860--need to do keyword first 'Black,' then 'mulatto' spelled out.

1870--again not entering any personal name in the search engine, one can use the search engine template and limit search to 'colored,' but then must also do letter 'M', same as 1850.

1880--one can limit search in the search template to first 'black' then ‘mulatto’.


The Probate Court, also called the Inferior Court or Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, serves as the county court in most states. These courts are the ones most likely to contain genealogical information. It is in these courts that deeds, land records, wills, administrations of estates and so on can be found. Slaves were considered property so look in the Probate Court for transactions of sales and for estate settlements where people will be named. Each state will have its own unique court system; however, the court records need to be utilized so find out what courts existed, if the records survive for the time period you need and research.


Marriages for former slaves can be found in the Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Alabama Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870 (insert different state name, if necessary). There are a number of marriage licenses, certificates, registers, and reports documenting the Federal government’s effort to record marriages of former slaves. Officials in Alabama informed the freedmen of the law to register marriages; however, no effort was made to register people. Bureau of Freedmen officials in Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi provided guidance and issued licenses. It appears that the Federal officials in each state acted independently of the central directive to register marriages of former slaves as South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia lack licenses or certificates of marriage for the newly freed people. SOURCE:

Washington, Reginald. "Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony." Prologue, Spring 2005, pp.58-65.

Marriage records can be found in some Plantation records where they survive. Some families recorded marriages of their slaves in the family Bible or journal.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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