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Finding Ancestors in the Anti-Slavery Movement and Underground Railroad

Library of Congress Resources

Where and how you begin will depend in part on how much you already know about your ancestors. The best way to ensure that the information you find relates to your family is to work backwards from what you know about your family. In some families, stories passed down from generation to generation hint at involvement in antislavery and the Underground Railroad.

A good way to begin is to see if there is a published history of your family, or one that mentions your family.

The Library of Congress collections include more than 50,000 family histories. If you had ancestors in anti-slavery or Underground Railroad activity, such a family history might mention it.

Go to the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Click on Browse. The default search parameter will say Title. Find the down arrow next to Title to access the pulldown menu, and select Subjects Containing. In the search box at right, enter a family surname and the word family.

For example:

A good next step would be to learn a little about the place(s) where your ancestors lived anytime between 1619 and 1865. The Library of Congress has one of this country's largest collections of local histories.

Follow the same steps as you did to search the Library of Congress Online Catalog for family histories, only in the search box enter the name of a county, then the word county, and the name of the state.

A search on Chester County, Pennsylvania, brought up this:

In other cases, stories about the Underground Railroad are attached to a particular building or property. Explore and search the Library of Congress Digital Collections to find primary source and historical resources that you can access from any computer. The selections below highlight the types of materials available through these resources related to anti-slavery and Underground Railroad activity.

HABS documentation sometimes indicates the connection of a building or property to the Underground Railroad, like this: