How Do I Research My Ghanaian Ancestry?

Tracing Your Roots: If your kin were there after the mid-1900s, there are plenty of resources to check.

Generic image
Generic image Thinkstock

“How can I research Ghanaian genealogy online?—Hillary Osei

Letting History Point You in the Right Direction

Before you begin your research in Ghana, or anywhere in West Africa, it is useful to have an understanding of the country’s history and how the ruling powers changed over time, since this will give you information that will guide your search for ancestors.

In 1957 the Republic of Ghana became the first West African nation to become completely independent from colonial rule. (Sudan was the first country in Africa south of the Sahara to gain independence, a year earlier, and parts of the country that we call Ethiopia were independent dating back to before the Christian era.)

Prior to this, the region was dominated by a variety of foreign colonial powers. The Portuguese were the first to establish a trade, in the 15th century. By the late 16th century, the Dutch had overtaken the Portuguese and set up trading centers of their own. Between the 17th and early 19th centuries, there were a variety of trading forts built and controlled by the Dutch, British, Danes and Swedes.

By 1874 the coastal region had become an official British colony under the crown, and it was commonly referred to as the Gold Coast. And as the historians Linda Heywood and John Thornton have pointed out, the rest of the area that we now call Ghana, including the Ashanti Kingdom, was conquered and integrated into the Gold Coast colony between 1896 and 1901.

In addition to foreign nations that occupied the land, there were also many ethnic groups that occupied the area, including the Akan (Ashanti), Ewe and Mole-Dagbon. Occasionally there have been tensions among some of these groups that have led to conflicts. The region is located on the west coast of Africa, and its abundance of natural resources made it a hub for trade as early as the 15th century. It was also one of the regions that slaves were taken from to the New World during the height of the slave trade.

Given Ghana’s complex history, with many different influences over time, you can see that the sources you use, and how you find them, may depend on the specific time period and place you are researching. For instance, you may find some information in British colonial records, or the names used by your ancestors may depend on the ethnic group to which they belonged.

Records From Ghana Available Online

If your family’s connection is fairly recent, FamilySearch has a few collections that may be useful. The first is the Ghana census of 1984. The census records are divided into 140 different localities, so you will need to know approximately where your family was living in order to use this collection. Because these records are not yet indexed, you have to browse through every image to find the record you are looking for.