African American Genealogy Records: New and Free!

Explore these African and African American genealogy records in celebration of your family history and Black History Month!

Also this week: see new records online for Southern Claims Commission, GA, NY and VA as well as African heritage sites, Liberia and South Africa. And check out a limited-time offer from Fold3 to view its Black History collection for free.

Black History Collection free this month at Findmypast.com

“In recognition of Black History Month, Fold3 is making the records in its Black History collection available for free through the end of February,” states a recent company announcement. “The Black History collection gives you access to more than a million documents, records, and photos that help to capture the African-American experience during five eras of American history: SlaveryThe Civil WarReconstruction & Jim Crow LawsWorld War I & II, and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Fold3 announcement lists several of its richest collections, and we think they’re worth noting individually:

African American genealogy records newly published online

U.S. Southern Claims Commission. The “genealogy giant” Ancestry.com has updated its collection of U.S. Southern Claims Commission, Disallowed and Barred Claims, 1871-1880. According to the collection description, “In 1871 the U.S. government created the Southern Claims Commission, an organization through which southerners could file claims for reimbursement of personal property losses due to the Civil War. Claims could only be filed by residents of AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA and WV.” Your African American ancestors may be among those listed therein: “Each claimant was required to provide witnesses. The witnesses had to answer the same 80+ questions that the claimant had to answer. Many of these witnesses were former slaves whose names rarely appear on any other legal document from the Civil War era. They also provided names and dates for family members who often lived on other plantations.”

Georgia. “The records of the Georgia Association of Educators (1921-2015)…are open for research,” reports the George State University Library. “The collection, comprised of unique documents and photographs, provides an in-depth look at the history of the organization that represents many of Georgia’s teachers. The collection includes convention proceedings, contracts and constitutions, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, audio-visual materials, photographs, and periodicals.” Among the topics covered are the mergers of the previously-segregated black and white state teachers’ associations and integration of public schools about 1970. Click here to explore the finding aid to this collection.

New York. A first-of-its-kind free database documents those involved in the institution of slavery in New York from the earliest times. The New York Slavery Records Index “is a searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War,” reports the site. “Our data come from census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. The index contains over 35,000 records and will continue to grow as our team of John Jay College professors and students locates and assembles data from additional sources.” A hat-tip to WGRZ.com for publishing this article that alerted us to this valuable new resource.

Virginia. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports, “Students in an introduction to public history class at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, created a digital archive of newspaper and other clippings collected during the civil rights era by the Hill Street Baptist Church in Roanoke. The project documents efforts in the area to desegregate lunch counters, movie theaters, and public schools during the 1950s and 1960s.”

African Genealogy and History Resources Now Online

African world heritage sites. CNN.com recently reported on a new online resource that seeks to provide digital preservation and access to important archaeological sites across Africa. “The archaeological wonders of the world offer a rich window into the past,” states the article. “But many are crumbling, weed-laden and victim to vandalism and conflict….Concerned with the decay of African heritage sites, The Zamani Project, based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is seeking to immortalize historic spots in three-dimensional, virtual reality-ready models…. Presently, they’ve mapped around 16 sites including Lalibela in Ethiopia, Timbuktu in Mali and Kilwa in Tanzania.”

Liberia. The free “genealogy giant” FamilySearch.org has added over 24,000 new record images and nearly 27,000 newly-indexed names to its free collection of Liberia, Marriage Records, 1912-2015. Documents include “applications for marriage licenses, marriage licenses, marriage returns, documents certifying marriages from Liberia.”

South Africa. FamilySearch has also updated two of its existing South Africa records collections with more indexed names:  South Africa, Cape Province, Kimberley, Probate Records of the Supreme Court, 1871-1937 and South Africa, Cape Province, Probate Records of the Master of the High Court, 1834-1989.

Listen to more African American genealogy topics

The free Genealogy Gems Podcast and the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast have both featured inspiring interviews on African African genealogy research. We recommend these:

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #201: Angela Walton-Raji joins Lisa Louise Cooke with tips for interviewing African American relatives, learning important history and getting past that 1870 brick wall into the era of American slavery. Listen for free!

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #200: A university professor shares his discoveries about a mother and young daughter separated by slavery. Learn how he pieced together their story from a poignant family heirloom found at a flea market.

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #130: Oprah Book Club author Lalita Tademy talks about her book Citizen’s Creek, a novel about an African American and Creek Indian family. This special episode (and all Premium Podcast episodes) is something extra just for our Premium subscribers; click here to learn how to subscribe.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Scots-Irish Genealogy: Getting Started

Researching your Scots-Irish genealogy is easier if you can identify your ancestors as Scots-Irish! The Scots-Irish put down early roots in Virginia, the Carolinas, and the Appalachian “backcountry” and would likely have come from Northern Ireland or Scotland. Read these important tips for tracing your Scots-Irish family history.

Thanks to Suzanne Earnshaw, Project Manager at Legacy Tree Genealogists, for providing this expert how-to article on tracing your Scots-Irish family history.

Who were the Scots-Irish?

Researchers use the term “Scots-Irish” to identify a people who went back and forth between Scotland and Ulster, Ireland. The North Channel, shown on the map below (click on it to see the original image), is also known as the Straits of Moyle. It connects the west coast of Scotland and the Mull of Galloway at the narrowest part the strait. There, the strait spans only 13 miles. This short distance between Northern Ireland ports and the western Scotland ports made trade and commuting quite common between Ireland and Scotland.

Researching your Scots-Irish genealogy

To find a Scots-Irish ancestor, start with what you do know. For example, my ancestors immigrated to America from Scotland in the 1880s. I traced my great-great-grandmother here in the US through US records, until I found a record which stated that she had emigrated from New Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Then, I began searching Scotland Census records in 1881 to find out more about my ancestors.

Good research methodology includes finding your ancestors in each record possible to get an accurate picture of their life, and collecting data through which you can learn more about the previous generation. As I moved back in time through the Scottish censuses in 1871, 1861, 1851, and finally 1841, I found that some of these family members family on a record were born in Scotland and others were born in Ireland—my ancestors were Scots-Irish and moved fluidly back and forth between Ireland and Scotland. Based on this fact, I then knew to conduct research in records for both Scotland and Ireland to find additional family records.

Scots-Irish Genealogy Resources on FamilySearch.org

The free genealogy giant FamilySearch.org has a variety of records available, which are cataloged by collection. To learn what collections are available, go to familysearch.org, sign in for free (click here to learn how and why), click Search and then Catalog. Type in the place you would like to search for record collections.

Records were often kept at a variety of government and church levels, and they might be cataloged differently. To properly research, type in “Scotland” and see what records are available. Then type in a narrower geographic area such as “Scotland, Dumbartonshire” and see which of those records might be of interest to you. The next search would be even more specific: “Scotland, Dumbartonshire, New Kilpatrick.” This increasingly-specific record search process can be done for any place.

If you type “Ireland” into the FamilySearch catalog request, one of your choices is the collection Death records of Ireland, 1864-1870, with index of deaths, 1864-1921. Clicking on this collection takes you to the collection page. There is a note: “Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes are available online” (see #1 in the screenshot below). By selecting that option, you will be able to search an index of names that appear in “1864-1958 births, 1845-1958 marriages, and 1864-1958 deaths, but excluding index records for Northern Ireland after its creation in 1922.” Note that the index extends to 1958, further than the collection name indicates.

Searching this index is a good first step, since it will provide you with the registration district if your ancestor is listed. Type in the name and identifying details. When I searched for “Catherine Halloran” Death 1900-1950, I found the birth that matched and it gave me the registration district as Galway.

To view record images available in this collection, you’ll need to scroll down on the above catalog page. You’ll see the collection broken down into groups of records. Those with a camera icon on the far right (#2 above) have digital images on the site that you can browse through page by page. (Click here for instructions on browsing FamilySearch images.) Unfortunately, images of the original 1931 death records and the original index aren’t on the site; you’d only be able to look at original records through 1870 and the original index through 1921, as the collection name indicates.

More sites for tracing Scots-Irish genealogy

Irishgenealogy.ie. This website is free and home to the historic records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths of the General Register Office. Civil registration in Ireland began in 1864. Church records are also available on this website. Most on this website are for the Roman Catholic Church, but they do have some Presbyterian records as well.

The Ulster Irish were mostly Protestant by faith, since many were originally English. The Scots mostly worshiped as Presbyterians (a type of Protestantism). Knowing your ancestor’s religion might be a clue to which records to begin research.

AskAboutIreland.ie. This website can help you research your family pre-census. The Primary Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland. It was overseen by Richard Griffith and published between 1847 and 1864. To find your family, enter their surname in the search box. If you know the county you can put in that as well to limit the amount of records returned. Tip: Searching without the location can give you an understanding of the distribution of a surname at the time the valuation was taken.

Tithe Applotment Survey at NationalArchives.ie. This site has the Tithe Applotment Survey of 1823-1938 for the 26 counties of the Republic.

ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk. For information on how to search Scottish records on this official website for searching government records and archives, click here.

Here is my final tip: as you research your Scots-Irish ancestors be sure to thoroughly search record collections by looking for a variety of spellings, using wildcards in your search terms, and reviewing original records page by page when you don’t find them in indexes.

Legacy Tree Genealogists is a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit https://www.legacytree.comEXCLUSIVE OFFER for Genealogy Gems readers! Receive $100 off a 20-hour+ research project from Legacy Tree Genealogists with code GGP100.

Disclosure: This article contains offers with affiliate links, which may expire without notice. Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Mayflower Ancestors and More in New Genealogy Records Online

Discover your Mayflower ancestors–or more about your family history from around the world–in new and updated genealogy records online. Among them are the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for WWI and various records for Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and Venezuela. Also: all Missouri adoptees may now order original birth certificates.

United States: Discover Your Mayflower Ancestors

In anticipation of the 2020 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (aka AmericanAncestors.org) has launched a new website, Mayflower 2020. This interactive website features the world’s first online gathering of Mayflower descendants, along with in-depth information about Mayflower passengers and their family trees, resources for finding Mayflower ancestors, and information on “Mayflower 2020” announcements and events.

The National Library of Wales has published online the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for the First World War. According to the NLW website, the book “contains the names of 35,000 servicemen and women, as well as members of Welsh Regiments, who lost their lives in the First World War. These individuals are listed according to regiment and battalion alongside the names of those who might well have died alongside them.” The original gilded volume contains about 1,100 pages of names, with about 40 names scripted in calligraphy on each page. The commemorative book was created as a “roll of honor” and companion to the Welsh National War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff, which doesn’t include names of the deceased on it. Search or browse the gorgeous volume at the National Library of Wales digital archive.

U.S. state-level genealogy collections

Indiana. Over a million records appear in MyHeritage’s new collection, Indiana Newspapers, 1847-2009. According to MyHeritage, “This collection is a compendium of newspapers published in various cities and towns in the state of Indiana from the 1840s until 2009. Newspapers are an important resource for genealogy and family history research as they contain obituaries and other vital record substitutes such as birth, marriage, and death notices. Additionally, society pages and stories of local interest contain rich information on activities and events in the community and often provide details about the persons involved.”

Massachusetts. New at AmericanAncestors.org is Suffolk County, MA: Probate File Papers, with nearly 22,000 Suffolk County probate cases (1630-1800). According to the site, “The probate cases include wills, guardianships, administrations, and various other types of probate records. The complete Suffolk County File Papers collection will eventually cover cases 1-94,757, which includes all years through 1892. The cases are indexed chronologically, which allows us to present them in sections while digital photography occurs. Photography is expected to continue through 2020. We will add cases as they become available.”

Missouri. A new Missouri law, the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, now gives all adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Adoptees born prior to 1941 were already eligible to request copies of their original birth certificates as of mid-2016. On January 1, 2018, this right was extended to adoptees born in or after 1941. According to a local news report, the state representative behind the new law, Don Phillips, is himself an adoptee and was among the first to receive a copy of his own certificate when the new rules went into effect recently. If you would like to order a non-certified copy of an original birth certificate from the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records, click here to fill out the online application.

Montana. Ancestry.com has published Montana Birth Records, 1897-1919. The collection includes birth certificates that typically include the following information: name, gender and race of child; date and place of birth; and parents’ names, ages and birthplaces.

Free on FamilySearch: More global genealogical records

FamilySearch is always free, so take a quick peek at the newly-indexed names added to the following collections. Maybe your ancestors’ names have finally appeared!

Ireland. Look up your Irish ancestors in Ireland Civil Registration, 1845-1913. More than 653,000 names have been added.

New Zealand. Nearly a million indexed names have been added to New Zealand, Civil Records Indexes, 1800-1966. Search this index to official government records of births, marriages and deaths. Tip: see the collection description for important information about ordering copies of original records.

Sweden. Over 36 million indexed names have been added to a mammoth collection of digitized record images in Sweden, Household Examination Books, 1880 – 1920.  Other Sweden collections have been updated at FamilySearch, as well: Sweden, Göteborg och Bohus Church Records, 1577-1932; index 1659-1860, Sweden, Kopparberg Church Records, 1604-1900; index 1628-1860 and Sweden, Västernorrland Church Records, 1501-1940; index 1650-1860.

Venezuela. Nearly 800,000 indexed names have been added to Venezuela, Archdiocese of Mérida, Catholic Church Records, 1654-2015. These parish or diocesan records include “baptisms, confirmations, parish censuses, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, marriage dispensations, deaths, and indexes.”

Get the most out of FamilySearch.org

Of all the “Genealogy Giants” we cover in-depth here at Genealogy Gems, FamilySearch is the only one that’s totally free. It’s also an enormous site with multiple places to search for your ancestors’ names in old records and even additional resources for finding offsite or even offline records you want. So it’s worth a little investment to learn how to use FamilySearch effectively. For that, we recommend Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org by Dana McCullough. In it, you’ll find step-by-step strategies for searching their millions of historical records and family trees, and how to maximize all the site’s valuable resources.

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast. She’s especially known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her latest favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club. Sunny is also a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine and the NGS-award-winning Co-Editor of Ohio Genealogy News.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

How to find the full text of a book in Google Books

I love Google Books research tips for genealogists–and this researcher sent me a fabulous one! Here’s what she did when Google Books didn’t give her everything she’d hoped for. And here’s where she finally found the full text of a book that wasn’t on Google Books. 

Google Books is a vast and free virtual library that’s literally available at our fingertips–but it’s greatly underused. So I love teaching Google Books research tips for family history, and then hearing success stories from listeners and readers. Here’s one I think you’ll love, with a great message about following through after “partial” discoveries.

Google Books vs. a genealogy brick wall

Was Jesse Purdy a longtime Loyalist or Revolutionary War veteran? Marci wrote in about a mysterious ancestor whose political loyalties seemed conflicted. She’d found a man by his name who was a Revolutionary War soldier and then another who appears in records as a Loyalist (a British subject who remained loyal to the Crown when the American colonies rebelled).

“I knew my Jesse also went by Justus and I found his Revolutionary War pension records, learned he died in 1840 in Bovina, New York and was a patriot,” she wrote. She had identified him as the son of Thomas Purdy and Rachael Odgen, but that particular Jesse “was listed as a Loyalist and…died in Ontario in 1819….It never made sense that he lived out his life (and all his children were born) in New York state.”

When she looked on Google Books for ‘Justus Purdy,’ she found a tantalizing “snippet view” of a book called The Purdy Family in New Brunswick and Elizabethtown, Ontario:
Google Books research tips
She thought the book might go on to mention his parents, but in this case, the full text of the book is not available on Google Books, so she could only see the snippet.

Google Books research tip: Follow all leads!

As you can imagine, Marci really wanted to see this book. She says, “I am retired, living in Mexico, so I don’t have InterLibrary Loan (click here to read more about using this with WorldCat). I was about to email a…cousin to see it they would order it when I thought, “NO, Lisa would look for other sources on Google search first. So I did, and found the full text on FamilySearch. And (drum roll please) here it is! Lots on Jesse the Loyalist (nothing more on Justus the Patriot):”
Google Books research tips
“So it goes,” she concludes. “I have another source and I’m still looking for parents.”
Good for her for persevering until she found the full text of the book! I love how she widened her search past Google Books to a more universal Google search (click here to learn free Google search tips). That led her to another vast, free online library, FamilySearch.org’s free Family History Books search page, a search portal for more than 350,000 digitized family history-related books. Here’s the Purdy family history book on that site:
Google Books research tips

More Google Books research tips

Click here to read another inspiring success story with several Google Books research tips. Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers can take their Google Books searches to the next level after watching my full-length tutorial video, “Google Books for Genealogy.” Discover the best techniques for finding fully digitized books FAST, and search secrets for locating genealogical data. Learn to translate foreign language volumes from your ancestor’s homeland and even track down maps, images, photos and more.
About the Author

About the Author

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

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