Millions of African Americans are descended from slaves, making genealogical research challenging prior to 1870, the date of the first census to include all free people. This guide provides published resources and case studies to aid in your research.
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Ahmed Johnson, Reference Specialist, Researcher and Reference Services Division
Created: September 11, 2020
Last Updated: February 2, 2021
Doing genealogical research for African Americans can be quite challenging and requires some creativity when deciding what resources and records to search for information. This is largely due to the fact that millions of African Americans are descended from slaves, making the tracing of their ancestral roots more burdensome because slaves did not appear on traditional Federal records before 1870.
The purpose of this guide is provide researchers with some of the basic tools and resources to begin their search. Start with the "How to Begin" section of this guide where you will find a bibliography of books you can use to begin that journey. The next section has "Guidebooks" which offer a breadth of information which researchers should refer to as their journey progresses. The "Case Studies" section provides examples of other researchers' successes which offer strategies and inspiration for the novice genealogist. The "Bibliographies and Other Resources" section establishes a doorway to additional resources and tools that highlight specific subject areas relating to African American genealogical research. Finally, additional information about using the Library's resources is provided on the "Using the Library" page.
About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services
The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.