Totally Free New US Genealogy Records Online

Among the totally free new US genealogy records recently put online are collections from 8 states: CA vital records and photos, GA Reconstruction oaths, IL photos, MA naturalizations, NY passenger lists, and digital newspapers from NJ, NC, NY and OH. Also: the Japanese-American experience, African American life on the West Coast and the Cumberland Gap in the Civil War.

Totally free new US genealogy records online

Check out these three important regional digital archives, followed by state-level collections of new US genealogy records from the East Coast to the West—and the South to the North.

The Japanese-American experience

The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkley, has published the massive Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Digital Archive. According to a university announcement, this new online resource “includes approximately 150,000 original items including the personal papers of internees, correspondence, extensive photograph collections, maps, artworks and audiovisual materials.” This project, together with a companion study, “form one of the premier sources of digital documentation on Japanese American Confinement found anywhere.”

You can now search over 50 newspaper titles (1887-1944) from the Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection. It’s “the world’s largest online archive of open-access, full‑image Japanese American and other overseas Japanese newspapers,” according to digital newspaper website developer Elephind. “All image content in this collection has enhancements added where possible, thus rendering the text maximally searchable. The holdings of each title are also browsable by date, with each title cross searchable with other titles on the platform. This collection is planned to contain some sixty newspapers published in Hawaii and North America. Most publications present a mix of content in Japanese and English, with formats and the proportionality of Japanese/English often changing as a reflection of shifting business and social circumstances.”

African Americans on the West Coast

The Official California Negro Directory and Classified Buyers Guide for 1942-43 is now available for free on Internet Archive. According to this news article, it “contains residential and business listings for California, Oregon and Washington. The 1942 directory includes ads for both black-owned businesses and white-owned businesses that accepted black trade, similar to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide issued for more than 30 years to help African-Americans find hotels and restaurants that would accommodate them during a time of rigid segregation.”

The Civil War in the Cumberland Gap

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, TN houses the valuable Cumberland Gap Byrnes Collection. According to the site, “The Cumberland Gap was a strategic location during the American Civil War and changed hands several times throughout the course of the conflict. The collection includes correspondence, cartes-de-visite, and artifacts from soldiers belonging to the 16th, 42nd, and 185th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, units that were stationed for a time in and around the Cumberland Gap area.” The collection is being digitized and uploaded to a free digital archive on an ongoing basis.

Free new US genealogy records online: State collections

California. The free genealogy giant FamilySearch.org has added over 667,000 indexed names to its existing collection of California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994. According to the collection description, “Registers, records and certificates of county birth and death records acquired from county courthouses. This collection contains some delayed birth records, as well. Some city and towns records are also included. Records have not been acquired for Contra Costa, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Modoc, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Siskiyou, Solano, Tulare and Ventura counties. The name index for death records covers Stockton, Lodi and Manteca cities and San Benito and San Joaquin counties.”

The new Sonoma County Fires Community Memory Map is a new crowd-sourced digital archive that has come after a fast-moving wildfire burned over 100,000 acres of land across the county. According to the site, it “serves to provide a central place where people can share photographs and stories of the places that we lost overnight. Through the power of community, we aim to reconstruct a digital collective memory. Residents and visitors of beautiful Sonoma County can share their recollections of the places we no longer have.” Here’s a moving article about the story behind the site’s creation.

Georgia. A new post-Civil War record index has been published at FamilySearch.org. So far, Georgia, Reconstruction Registration Oath Books, 1867-1868 includes nearly 175,000 names. “Registration Oath Books [were] created by U.S. military officials stationed in Georgia following the Civil War,” explains the collection description. “Registers typically contain each voter’s name, county of residence, date of registration, race, and an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath of allegiance was required in order to register. Registered voters would then elect delegates to the state’s constitutional convention.” Don’t forget to use your free guest login at FamilySearch.org for the maximum level of online access to records. Click here to learn more about this.

Illinois. About 1,700 digital images depicting the history of Rockford (Winnebago County), Illinois have been published in the Midway Village Museum’s Online Collections. According to the site, the images include: “postcards and photographs of central Rockford, Camp Grant, and local landmarks and businesses; photographs of community activities in the late 1800s and early 1900s; letters home from Rockford boys fighting in the Civil War; [and] transcripts from interviews done in 2007 with immigrants to Rockford and their children.”

Massachusetts. FamilySearch.org has published a new collection of early 20th-century naturalization records. Massachusetts, Naturalization Records, 1906-1917. Over 71,000 digitized record images are browseable on the site. Nearly 100,000 names have been indexed to date (more names will be added as they are indexed). These records are from petitions and records of naturalizations of the U.S. District and Circuit of Massachusetts.

New Jersey. Digital historical newspapers from New Jersey are finally being added to Library of Congress website, Chronicling America. Only one paper, the Perth Amboy Evening News, has been published on the site so far, but more are coming. “Upon the project’s completion, 100,000 pages of New Jersey newspapers will be available through the site,” states this news article.

New York. Over 1.6 million names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942. This collection will continue to grow as more names from its 748,000 digital page images are indexed. You may browse unindexed pages: the indexes are grouped by shipping line and arranged chronologically by date of arrival.

Also, the Hudson River Valley Heritage Historical Newspapers project has now published issues from 34 newspaper titles dating from 1831 to 2013. Counties covered include Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester. According to the site, “This collection contains 28,946 issues comprising 300,793 pages and 1,017,782 articles.”

North Carolina. The Digital North Carolina Heritage Center has added more newspapers to its free website:

  • The entire run of the Brevard News, a Transylvania County, NC newspaper. According to the site, “Previously, issues of the Brevard News only covered from 1917 to 1923, but DigitalNC now includes January 1924 through December 1932….It joins fellow Transylvania county newspapers the Sylvan Valley News, The Echo, and The Transylvania Times.”
  • 16 Wilmington newspapers spanning 1803-1901, including the Wilmington Daily Record. According to a blog announcement, “Some of the papers have several years of content available and several have just an issue or two. But together, they paint a rich picture of what life in Wilmington looked like during the 1800s and the wide variety of political viewpoints that were held in the city, and North Carolina as a whole. The papers shed light on a port town that was instrumental in the Civil War and in the politics of Reconstruction afterwards, which culminated in the infamous riots of 1898.”
  • More issues of a Warsaw, NC newspaper, The Duplin Times. The years 1962-1985 have been added to a collection for this title dating back to 1935. The paper covers primarily local politics and community issues and events.

Ohio. The public library system in Gallipolis (Gallia County), Ohio has put its entire local historical newspaper collection online. The collection spans 123 years of news (since 1895) and includes Daily Times, Sunday Times-Sentinel, The Gallipolis Daily Tribune and others. The digital publication of issues of some newspapers through 2017 is unusual and required the publisher’s permission. Access these at the Digital Archives of the Bossard Memorial Library.

Not free but still fabulous: 110 million more newspaper pages

Newspapers.com recently sent out a “Year in review” statement that is worth passing along. They report that in 2017, the site added nearly 1,400 new newspaper titles. “With an average of 9,203,918 pages added per month, Newspapers.com added 110,447,021 pages’ worth of new content last year!”

Additions in 2017 span 41 U.S. states, Washington D.C., the UK, and Canada. They added the most newspaper titles for Alabama (265), Kansas (187), Arkansas (151), Mississippi (126) and Utah (91). Breaking it down by the number of pages added, though, you can see they added substantial content for other states, too—with Utah making both lists:

  • Florida: 11,579,543 new pages
  • Indiana: 3,830,015 new pages
  • New York: 2,047,831 new pages
  • Pennsylvania: 4,827,196 new pages
  • Utah: 1,174,417 new pages

Newspapers.com now claims over 338 million total pages of newspaper content. If it’s been a while since you’ve last looked around the site, it may be time to visit again and explore your ancestors’ lives in print.

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.

African-American County Slave Records Featured in New and Updated Genealogical Records

African-American county slave records are just one of two new collections to broaden your genealogy research. Also this week, records pertaining to the elite group of Masons in North Carolina, naturalization records from Michigan, and church records from New York. Lastly, take a look at the new records available for Northamptonshire, England!

In the past month, we have brought you two blog posts (Social History for Genealogy and the Colored Farmers’ Alliance and Genealogy Research Techniques for Finding Your Free People of Color) to offer you tips to researching your African-American roots. In this Friday’s post, we bring your attention to African-American county slave records and historical ads for genealogy research.

United States – Pennsylvania – African-American County Slave Records

This new database from Ancestry titled Pennsylvania, County Slave Records, 1780-1834 is a great find. This collection contains records pertaining to slaves and free persons from Adams, Bedford, Bucks, Centre, Cumberland, Fayette, Lancaster, and Washington counties, as well as Lancaster City. The types of records include: petitions to keep slaves past the age of twenty-eight, records of “negro” and “mulatto” children, as well as birth and residence registers. Various other records, such as apprenticeship records, bills of sale, and manumissions also occasionally appear.

African American genealogy and slave records

Entries include:
– the slave’s name (typically only a given name)
– description (e.g., Negro woman, negro man, etc.)
– owner
– birth date
– occasionally, the name of a mother

United States – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Finding Family After Slavery

This unique project by Villanova University and Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia will make classified ads of the past easily accessible. The goal of “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery” is to make accessible an online database of snapshots from history, which hold names of former slaves, owners, traders, plantation locations, and relatives gone missing.

So far, project researchers have uploaded and transcribed 1,000 ads published in six newspapers from 1863 to 1902. These newspapers include: the South Carolina Leader in Charleston, the Colored Citizen in Cincinnati, the Free Man’s Press in Galveston, the Black Republican in New Orleans, the Colored Tennessean in Nashville, and the Christian Recorder, the official publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination published at Mother Bethel.

Thousands more ads will be added in the future.

United States – North Carolina – WWI Masons

New records from The Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina are now online. These records include several Minute Books and an Account book from St. John’s Lodge no. 1, Minute books and an account book from Zion Lodge no. 81, speeches from well known North Carolina Free Masons such as William Lander and J.M. Lovejoy, letters of correspondence, and more. But the best records for those doing their genealogy may be the list of North Carolina Masons Who Died in WWI.

African american genealogy and Masons

Screenshot from The Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina website.

The list is organized by name of lodge and includes the member’s rank, date and place of death, and where he was buried. This may particularly helpful to those researchers who have not been able to locate a death or burial record, or were not able to locate an obituary.

United States – New York – Church Records

This new database at Ancestry.com is titled New York and Vicinity, United Methodist Church Records, 1775-1949. It contains baptism, marriage, birth, death, and membership records of Methodist Episcopal churches in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Materials include registers, membership certificates, minutes of meetings, church financial records, lists of seminary students and teachers. Though the records will vary due to the lengthy time span they cover, you may find:

  • names
  • birth dates
  • marriage dates
  • death dates
  • spouse’s names
  • parents’ names
  • places where an event (baptism, marriage, death, burial, etc.) took place

United States – Marriages

Over 54,000 records covering more than 1,800 counties have been added to Findmypast’s collection of United States Marriages including substantial updates from Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee. Released in partnership with FamilySearch international, these new additions mark the latest phase of efforts to create the single largest online collection of U.S. marriage records in history.

Each record includes a transcript and image of the original documents that list marriage date, names of the bride and groom, birthplace, birth date, age, residence as well as fathers’ and mothers’ names. The entire collection now contains over 168 million records and continues to grow.

United States – Michigan – Naturalization

FamilySearch has recently added a browse-only database titled Michigan, Eastern District, Naturalization Index, 1907-1995. Soon, this collection will be easily searched by name, but in the meantime, you can browse over 500,000 naturalization records for the state of Michigan.

Michigan naturalization records

Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

This collection contains images of soundex cards to naturalization petitions. A guide to using a soundex appears at the beginning of most of the image ranges within this collection and corresponds with NARA publication M1917: Index Cards to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, Detroit, 1907-1995. For additional information on soundex indexes see the wiki article, Soundex.

The records usually include the following information:

  • Full name of citizen (sometimes a name change is indicated)
  • Date naturalized
  • Name of court
  • Certificate number

United Kingdom – Northamptonshire – Baptisms

Findmypast offers more great finds in the collection titled Northamptonshire Baptisms. This collection contains over 14,000 transcripts of original baptism records and covers 34 parishes across the East Midlands county. These records cover the years 1559 through 1901.

The level of detail found each transcript will vary, but most will include names, baptism date, baptism place, the names of both parent’s, document reference, page, and entry number. Remember, these are transcripts only and do not contain an image of the original document.

United Kingdom – Northamptonshire – Hospital Admissions

The collection at Findmypast titled Northamptonshire, Northampton General Hospital Admissions 1774-1846 consists of over 126,000 transcripts of original admission registers held by the Northamptonshire record office. These transcripts will allow you to discover whether your ancestors were admitted to the hospital, when they were admitted, why they were admitted, and the year they were discharged. Most records will also reveal the nature of ailment and the outcome of their treatment.

More on African-American Genealogy

African American genealogy podcastComing up next month in The Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 201: An interview with Angela Walton-Raji on finding African-American ancestors. She shares tons of resources!

Even if you haven’t found any African-Americans on your family tree, the challenges and rewards of African-American genealogical research are both fascinating and moving to learn about. And, learn other tips and tricks for genealogy research by listening to our archived free podcasts.

Social History for Genealogy and the Colored Farmers’ Alliance

Social history plays a significant role in successful genealogical research. The events of a particular time-frame shed new light on the lives of our ancestors and ultimately lead us to new finds. In this post, Gems Reader Trisha asks questions regarding her family’s ties to the Colored Farmers’ Alliance.

social history for genealogy

“The Colored Farmers’ Alliance.” NBC News. NBCUniversal Media. 29 July 2007. NBC Learn. Web. 22 January 2015.

Did a Member of the Family Belong to the Colored Farmers’ Alliance?

Our Genealogy Gems Editor, Sunny Morton, received the following email recently from Trisha:

I am researching my great-grandparents in Northeast Arkansas. The census records I have found so far list that my great-grandfather was a famer. So, I started looking up farming associations hoping that maybe he was a member and I could find out more information about him and possibly any relatives that lived nearby. I came across the Colored Farmers’ Alliance that was in existence from 1886- 1891 in the southern states, but I have only been able to find out basic general public information about this agency. Do you know if, or how, I can find an Arkansas member list or something similar? Any help or advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

The History of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance

The Colored Farmers’ Alliance was formed in 1886 in the state of Texas. A group of southern African-American farmers had been barred membership to the other Farmers’ Alliances and hoped by creating this group, they would be able to cooperatively solve the common problems of its members. The group also encouraged African-American farmers to become economically independent by purchasing homes and eliminating debt. [“Colored Farmers’ Alliance,” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/populism-and-agrarian-discontent/timeline-terms/colore : accessed 28 Oct 2016).]

The organization took off and spread across the Southern United States. It’s peak membership was up to 1.2 million in 1891. However, the organization did not survive long. In 1891, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance called a general strike of African-American cotton-pickers and demanded a wage increase from 50 cents to $1 per hundred pounds of cotton. The strike failed and the group dissolved. [“Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colored_Farmers%27_National_Alliance_and_Cooperative_Union : accessed 28 Oct 2016).]

Pulling Together Some Answers

We pulled the whole team together for this one, and Sunny reached out to me regarding Trisha’s questions. In our initial research, we didn’t come across any references online to membership lists for any branch of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, including Arkansas where Trisha’s ancestors lived. We did however find an article titled Preliminary research for writing a history of the Colored Farmers Alliance in the Populist movement: 1886-1896 by Omar Ali, written May 11, 1998, which states:
“Little detail is known about individual members of the Colored Farmers Alliance, including its leadership.”
That may not be surprising considering that the organization was attempting to improve member’s situations and fight for better pay. It’s possible that members may not have wished to be named due to concerns about repercussions. It would be important to learn more about the organization and the political and historical environment in which it operated in order to determine the probability of membership rolls existing or surviving.
While not everything is online (by any stretch of the imagination,) the web is the best place to do further homework to track down offline resources. Trisha could start by contacting the Arkansas State Library, and then exploring these search results from WorldCat.org which include a variety of works on the subject. It would also be very worthwhile to spend some time digging into the wide range of online resources such as Google buy syphilis medication Books and the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America digital newspaper collection. Let’s do that now!

Google Books

A search of colored farmers alliance delivers several results on the topic. Use search operators to help Google deliver even better results, by putting quotation marks around the search phrase “colored farmers alliance.” This instructs Google to return only web pages that contain that exact phrase. You’ll find more Google search strategies in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, which also includes an entire chapter on using Google Books for genealogy.

Here’s an example of one book I found called The Agrarian Crusade: A Chronicle of the Farmer in Politics by Solon J. Buck (1920).

 

Click here to see the entire search results list for the search query Colored Farmers Alliance in Google Books.

While I didn’t discover any references to actual member names beyond some of the leaders, Google Books certainly offers more depth and history on the Alliance.

Digitized Newspapers

colored farmers alliance

Indian chieftain., March 03, 1892, Image 1 at the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America.
(The Indian Chieftan was published in Vinita, Indian Territory [Okla.]) 1882-1902

While only a small fraction of newspapers published throughout history are digitized and online, what can be found offers a wealth of information. The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America offers an excellent cache of searchable newspapers for free. Subscription websites such as Ancestry’s Newspapers.com and Newsbank’s GenealogyBank offer real value if the newspaper you seek is held within their collections.
Since Chronicling America is free, that’s a good place to start. At the main search page, click the Advanced Search tab. On that page, you will have the option to search by state, publication, and dates. Under “Enter Search” fields, there are three options. Type the phrase colored farmers alliance into the “with the phrase” field. That will narrow the search results down to newpaper pages that include the entire phrase and will eliminate pages that have some or all of the words independent of each other. A search of all states for that phrase delivers over 325 digitized newspaper pages featuring articles that include that phrase.
At Newspapers.com, I found dozens of references as well, many from Arkansas newspapers. I also noticed that several individuals wrote and signed letters to the editor on the subject.

For more help on researching newspapers for genealogy, listen to my two part podcast series titled “Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1 and Part 2.”

colored farmers alliance

members named

Google Scholar

Google Scholar offers not only well-researched works on a given subject, but also the ability to request only results with source citations. These citations not only help you weigh the accuracy and value of the paper, but provide intriguing new leads for research materials.
Using the same search operators as I did in Google Books, I retrieved over 175 results. To filter these results to only those with source citations, click the “include citations” box on the search page at the bottom, left side.
google scholar search for colored farmers alliance
The savvy genealogist will also want to experiment with variations on the query by adding words and phrases such as members included, members list, list of members, and so on.

YouTube

Since I devoted another chapter of my book to using another free Google tool, YouTube, I would be remiss if I didn’t run a quick search at the video giant website. Here is a link to the video I found online.

It’s amazing what the family historian can discover from the comfort of their own computer. With so many valuable resources discovered through an online search, a well-prepared trip to the library or archive will prove even more fruitful.

Genealogy Research Techniques for Finding Your Free People of Color

Not all people of color were enslaved prior to the emancipation. In fact, many were freed long before that. Researching free people of color can be quite complex. Tracing my own family line (who were free people of color) continues to be a real learning process for me. However, don’t let the challenges deter you from exploring this rich part of your heritage. In this “Getting Started” post, we discuss the manumission process, “negro registers,” and more for tracing your free people of color.

Free People of Color Ohio

Jimmy Jeams Rial, a Randolph Freedmen of Rossville, Ohio. Picture courtesy of Piqua Public Library, Miami County, Ohio.

Who are Free People of Color?

[Note: Throughout our post, we will be using terminology that was used at the time the records were created.] A ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’ was a fairly recent status in the U.S. which differentiated between an African-American person who was free and those who were enslaved prior to emancipation. If a person was referred to as a ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’, that meant the person was not living in slavery. It is a fascinating and little know fact that, as Ancestry Wiki states, “one in ten African-Americans was already free when the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.”

Step 1 for Tracing Free People of Color: Censuses

Sometimes, the story of your ancestors being free people of color was passed on through oral traditions. In my own family, our “line of color” was not talked about. Instead, my first clue was when I found my ancestor in the 1840 population census listed as free. I also found that one woman (presumably his wife) was marked in the column for “free white persons,” but John and the children were marked as “free colored persons” in this census. This was the first step to identifying my ancestor as a free person of color.

freepeopleofcolor_2

Let’s see another example. The 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses included two population schedules. One enumerated free inhabitants, and the additional schedule, referred to as a Slave Schedule, was for making an enumeration of those persons who were enslaved. [We will discuss this further, below.]

If your ancestor appears on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for free inhabitants, they are considered free, even if their race was listed as “Black.” An example of a Black man enumerated on the 1850 census is shown in the image below. Archibald Giles is recorded as “Black,” but appears on this census for “free inhabitants.” Therefore, he would be considered a free person of color.

freepeopleofcolor_3

If your targeted ancestor does not appear on either the 1850 or 1860 population schedule for free inhabitants, they might have been enumerated on the slave schedules of 1850 or 1860.

freepeopleofcolor_4

1850 Slave Schedule for Henry County, Tennessee. Snapshot via Ancestry.com.

You can check the 1850 Slave Schedule and the 1860 Slave Schedules at Ancestry.com. The 1850 census is also available at Findmypast, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch.

In this example to the left, you will see a portion of the Henry County, Tennessee Slave Schedule for 1850. Notice, only the heads of household or the “owners” were listed by name. Slaves were not named, but rather listed by age and sex under the names of their “owners.”

Step 2: The Manumission Process

Once you have identified that you have free people of color in your family tree, the next step is to determine how they became free. Many free people of color came from families that had been free for generations. This could have been due to a manumission of an ancestor or a relationship between an indentured white woman and a black slave. I make mention of this relationship between races because it is helpful to remember that the status (whether free or enslaved) of the child was based on the status of their mother. If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. [1]

Manumission was a formal way in which slaves were set free. There are many reasons why a slave owner may have released or freed his slaves. In some cases, slave owners would free their mistresses and children born to her. In one case, I found the following comment made by the slave owner,  “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me…” And thirdly, it was possible for a slave to obtain their manumission through the act of “self-purchase.”

If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. [1]

Private manumission through probate. A private manumission decree could be made in a last will and testament. You can find these manumissions in wills, estate papers, or in probate packets. Many of these county level probate records have been microfilmed or digitized and are easily accessible online.

Sometimes, a manumission in a will would be contested. When this happened, a long paper trail of court documents may have been created. A thorough search of all of these proceedings may offer a wealth of genealogical data and clues.

Usually, manumission papers included the name of the slave owner, the name of the slave, and the reason for manumission. In the case of the slaves of John Randolph of Roanoke [Virginia,] his slaves were not named individually in his will written on 4 May 1819. Instead he stated, “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me, that the circumstances under which I inherited them, and the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws of the land, have prevented my manumitting them in my lifetime, which is my full intention to do, in case I can accomplish it.”[2]

John freed over five hundred slaves, and though each of them was not listed by name in his will, a codicil at the end of the will did name two of his slaves when he asked that Essex and his wife Hetty “be made quite comfortable.”[3]

freepeopleofcolor_1

Record of Arthur Lee purchasing his freedom.

Manumission through self purchase. Self-purchase may seem impossible; however, many slaves were not required to work on Sundays for their masters.[4] On this day, men and women could hire themselves out to do work for others. With frugality, they could save their earnings to buy their freedom or the freedom of their loved ones, though this was very, very difficult.

As you can see in this example of Arthur Lee, he was able to pay for his freedom and the freedom of his wife, though it took many years. This type of record could be found in a published book, a record listed in notarial books of the county, civil minutes books, or other courthouse holdings. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable person in your targeted area about where you should look. A knowledgeable person may be those working with the local historical or genealogical society, or a head of the local history department of the public library.

Step 3: “Negro Registers”

If you do not find the manumission in a last will and testament, perhaps due to a courthouse fire or other loss, you may have luck searching the county records where your free people of color later settled. Free people of color were often required to register, using their freedom papers, when they relocated to a new area. These types of records are called ‘negro registers’ or ‘records of free negros.’

Newly freed people carried with them their freedom papers which were given to them when they were manumitted. Once they relocated, they would register with the county clerk. They would need to show the county clerk these freedom papers and a record was made in the register. The record may include the name of members of the family, ages, and most recent place of residence.

The book titled Registers of Blacks in the Miami Valley: A Name Abstract, 1804-1857 by Stephen Haller and Robert Smith, Jr. provides the following information about registers of freed people:

“From 1804 to 1857, black people in Ohio had to register their freedom papers with the clerk of courts of common pleas in the county where they desired residency or employment. State law required this registration, and clerks of court were to keep register books containing a transcript of each freedom certificate or other written proof of freedom (see Laws of Ohio 1804, page 63-66; 1833, page 22; 1857, page 186). Few of these registers have survived to the 20th century.”[2]

Though this author says that only a few of the registers have survived, I found some microfilmed registers listing the names of free people of color who had settled in Miami County, Ohio at the local historical society archives. Again, it is important to ask those people who would be most knowledgeable, and in this case, it was the historical society.

In conclusion, we understand that tracing both our enslaved and manumitted ancestors is often a difficult task. We also know there is much more to learn and share for the best techniques to researching these lines. We encourage you to review some of the additional sources below. Please let us know what other resources have been most helpful to you in researching your free people of color in the comments section below. We want to hear from you!

Source Citations

[1] Kenyatta D. Berry, “Researching Free People of Color,” article online, PBS, Genealogy Roadshow,  accessed 1 Dec 2016. [2] Lemuel Sawyer, A Biography of John Randolph with a Selection From His Speeches, New York: 1844, page 108, online book, Google Books, accessed 20 Dec 2015. [3] Ibid. [4] History Detectives Season 8, Episode 10, PBS, online video, originally aired 29 Aug 2010, accessed 1 Dec 2016.

Additional Reading

Free at Last: Slavery in Pittsburgh,” article and database online, University of Pittsburgh.
John Randolph,” article online, Ohio History Central.
Lemuel Sawyer, A Biography of John Randolph with a Selection From His Speeches, New York: 1844, book online, Google Books.

TV’s Who Do You Think You Are? #WDYTYA Starts Tomorrow

aisha tyler wdytya

It’s time for a new season of Who Do You Think You Are? here in the U.S. Episode one features comedian and actress Aisha Tyler (Archer, Ghost Whisper.)

According to TLC, Aisha “tracks down her 2x great-grandfather, whose story had been lost over generations, and uncovers an astonishing tale of a prominent ancestor whose struggle to keep his illegitimate son a secret made headlines.”

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s in store tomorrow:

The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? premieres Sunday, April 3 at 9/8c

The contributors featured in the upcoming season include:

  • Scott Foley finds a relative who risked his life for one of America’s founding fathers, and an ancestor who suffered unspeakably during one of this nation’s darkest times.
  • Lea Michele nails down where her mysterious paternal ancestors came from, and learns of the dire economic circumstances they endured while trying to emigrate to the U.S.
  • Chris Noth learns his ancestors suffered during one of the greatest catastrophes in American history, and a relative who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of all time.
  • Molly Ringwald explores family lore of Swedish royalty which uncovers her ancestors’ harrowing lives and a brave woman who forever changed her family’s fate.
  • Katey Sagal is shocked to learn of her family’s Amish roots, and digs deeper as she realizes the level of dedication to their faith.
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