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 Thinkstock

Each census record lists the address for the household and the name and gender of the head of the household. It also lists the name and gender, along with the relation to the head of the household, for each person living in the house. In addition to listing members of the family, it also shows if there were any visitors to the house that day and, if so, gives their name, gender and relation to the head of the household. Note that although the date on the printed title pages says 1982, the census was actually enumerated in 1984.

A second collection that is viewable online is Ghana, Accra, Marriages, 1863-2003. This is a compilation of both marriage and divorce records for the city of Accra, the capital city of Ghana. These records generally contain the age, gender and occupation of those married, as well as information about their parents. Once again, this collection can be browsed only by page, but the collection is divided by record type (marriage or divorce) and year.

Another source of genealogical information from Ghana is the Gold Coast Database. This academic project is a compilation of biographies, photographs, newspaper articles, cemetery inscriptions and other historical documents. The records on this site are primarily centered either on Dutch families in Ghana or on Euro-African and African families who have a connection to the Dutch. The site is free to use, but registration is required. If you suspect that your Ghanaian ancestors have some connection to the Dutch, this site may be useful.

In addition to these collections, there are some Ghanaian newspapers that are searchable online in the African Newspapers collection by Readex. Titles include the Gold Coast Independent (Accra, 1895-1922), Gold Coast Leader (Cape Coast, Ghana, 1902-1922) and the Gold Coast Times (Cape Coast, 1874-1885). If you know the names of your ancestors in Ghana, you can look them up in this collection to find clues that will help you trace them further. This is a subscription site, but you can check with your local library to see if it has access to the database.

The Public Records and Archives Administration Department of Ghana, or PRAAD, is in charge of managing important records that would be useful for genealogical research, such as vital, census and probate records. Unfortunately, because of various financial and logistical constraints, the department faces great challenges in maintaining its physical collections. Because of this, it has not yet had the opportunity to make any of these records accessible online.

Registration of vital records began in Ghana as early as 1888 but was limited mostly to larger cities. Registration of births was not enacted nationwide until 1912, and even then, compliance was limited. It was not until 1965, after independence, that registration of births and deaths was required. Although an index of births and deaths is not available online, certified copies can be ordered. More information can be found at the Births and Deaths Registry website.

General Tips for Research in Ghana

An understanding of the naming customs used in Ghana may also help guide your research. For instance, in the past, when Akan children were born, they were first given a traditional name that was based on the day of the week. Later in life, usually by the time they started school, the children were given a Christian name that they would use. The custom persists to this day.

Surnames in Ghana also followed a different pattern from surnames in America, in that all members of an immediate family could use a different surname. For example, sometimes a son would use his father’s first name as his surname, or maybe a woman who was married would not take her husband’s name. Although not all Ghanaians followed these conventions, being aware of these practices can greatly aid your research. ProGenealogists provides a detailed explanation of Ghanaian naming conventions on its website.

Your ancestors’ experiences and family traditions were also shaped by the ethnic group with which they were affiliated. If you hit a roadblock in your research, perhaps you could learn more about your ancestors’ daily lives and familial traditions by researching their ethnic affiliations. For example, the Ashanti people have a matrilineal society, meaning that entrance into the group was inherited from one’s mother. A brief overview of some of the larger ethnic groups in Ghana can be found at the news site Vibe Ghana.