AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum
Records of Slave Births
In Response To: Slave Births ()
(This response applies to slaves born in the United states)
(1) Virginia apparently began a state-wide registry of births of all people in the 1850s. These are available for some counties.
(2) Some large municipalities experimented with collecting vital statistics, including births, in the 1800s. I do not know offhand which ones did this and what time periods were covered.
Usually your most fruitful sources are:
(3) Plantation birth registers. Kept as part of the business records of many larger plantations, you will find most of the surviving ones in archives. Fortunately, a vast number of these have been microfilmed by LexisNexis, for a project edited by Kenneth M. Stampp, called Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations. You can search the descriptive catalogs at through links at this page:
(4) Family Bibles. Most slaveowners, especially those with few slaves, did not need fancy business records to document the births (and sometimes deaths) of slaves. Births can be found in many family Bibles on separate pages right after the white family records; significantly, usually the slave pages are called "Negroes Ages" rather than "birth" even though they contain birthdates - because for slave owners, the main reason for recording slave births was to prove how old a slave was for tax purposes, for appraisal purposes, and for sale. For decades after the end of slavery, you can find stories of freedpeople who went to the ex-masters and asked their ages, because this information was in the family Bible. Unfortunately, most surviving antebellum family Bibles are probably still in private possession. Some are accessible in the collections of Archives or historical societies.
(5) Probate Records. Administrators of estates submitted annual returns (business reports of earnings and expenses) that described the employment of slaves during the previous year, and sometimes noted births and deaths. If not specifically stated, births and deaths are implied in the annual returns and "vouchers" (receipts) that accompany them. Here is a link to the AfriGeneas Library that explains probate records and gives examples of how you can sometimes deduce approximate birthdates:
(6) Parish Church baptism registries (Usually only found in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Moravian, and some Presbyterian churches. Although some might exist, I have never seen such registers for 19th century American Methodists). Of course, even where these records exist, baptisms are not births, but in denominations that practice infant baptism, one event would follow closely after the other. Baptists do not believe in infant baptism, so you won't find any in those churches.
The link, below, contains a sample of records available for parts of Virginia. To find quickly, use your browser "find" feature to locate "birth" or "slave" on that page.