State archives and libraries are the go-to genealogical source for records relating to births, deaths, marriages, the military, courts, land, maps, taxes, state institutions, agencies, state censuses, naturalization, family histories and historical collections.
Several state archives' websites have sections dedicated to African-American and slave research, either showing how to research African Americans in that state or providing direct access to state records of blacks.
You can visit a state archive yourself or hire a researcher to do your legwork out of state. If you are researching out of state, you may be able to order copies of records online, usually for a fee. Some archive websites allow you to download research-request forms, make research requests and ask questions or search online records.
If you live in-state, you may be able to order copies of records for free. You can also use archives' sites to plan a research trip — taking note of operating hours, fees and records available to the public. Search any online records by subject, using the keywords "African American," "slave," "Negro," "colored" and the surnames of the slaves, freedmen and slave owners you are researching to find available books, microfilms and collections. Print out the list to prepare for your visit.
For an online list of direct links to state archives, go to Cyndi's List and search the U.S. State Level Records Repositories.
Here are the state-archive websites with the most detailed sections dedicated to African-American genealogy.
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies: Genealogy & Research Tools. The center is a department of the Central Arkansas Library System. Records: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands records for Arkansas.
The Black History Commission of Arkansas, part of the Arkansas History Commission. Records: African American Funeral Home and Cemetery Records on microfilm; school yearbooks.
Connecticut State Library: "Research Guide to African-American Genealogical Resources at the Connecticut State Library." Records: Connecticut Census Index and cemetery inscription records; the logbook of slave traders between New London and Connecticut, 1757-58.
University of Delaware Library: African American Resources in Special Collections. Records: "Printed Collections, Visual Materials, Oral Histories, Postcards, and Manuscript and Archival Collections." While interesting historically, it may not be as helpful for genealogy research.
The Black Experience: A Guide to African American Resources in the State Library and Archives of Florida
. Records: State and local government records; manuscripts (nongovernment records and papers); Florida Photographic Collection; films and videos; the State Archives holdings of selected National Archives Microfilm Publications; sources in the Florida Collection of the State Library of Florida; sources in other repositories.
Georgia Archives: African American Resources page. Records: Reconstruction Registration Oath Books; Apprenticeship/Indenture Registers, 1800-1930, which document freedmen and some whites; Records of Slave Trials for six counties; and Cemeteries and Churches.
Illinois State Archives. Records: Click on "Search our online databases" for vital records; click on "Genealogical Research" to access "Genealogical Research Series Pamphlet 6: African-American Records."
Indiana Commission on Public Records: African American Family History Resources. Records: Census records, including Negro Registers; county records, including School Registers (colored), Enumerations of White and Colored Males over the age of 21, Court Dockets, Jail Registers and Insane Records; and military records, including Civil War Records (Indiana's 28th U.S. Colored Troops and other units), Veterans' Enrollments (of 1886, 1890 and 1894), Spanish-American War Records and World War I.
Kansas Historical Society: State Archives and Library in Topeka. Records: Links to state records for genealogical research; databases and indexes; vital records in Kansas; and African-American newspapers on microfilm (available on interlibrary loan).
Maryland State Archives Presents: The Study of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland
Links to "African Americans in Maryland" and "African American Resources."
Archives of Maryland Online
and Guide to Government Records
. "Online access enables users to research such topics as Maryland's constitutions and constitutional conventions' proceedings, session laws, proceedings of the General Assembly, governors' papers, and military records." Records: Click on "Slavery Commission" for "completed and in-progress volumes" for Prince George's, Dorchester, Montgomery, Howard, Caroline and Anne Arundel counties. To obtain a user name and password so that you can access the records, send an email request to email@example.com.
Massachusetts Archives. Records: 1754 slave census and early-19th-century applications and registers of state-issued passports and applications for Southern travel (1842-1845, 1862).
Minnesota Historical Society Library: Research Services. Records: No African-American section, but there are searchable birth and death indexes and curricula and books pertaining to black Minnesota history.
Missouri State Archives: Missouri's African American History. Records: Guide to African American History.
New Jersey Department of State, Division of Archives & Records Management: State Archives. No African-American page. Records: New Jersey State Archives Searchable Databases include the Index to Death Records, June 1878-June 1887; World War I Casualties; Marriage Records, 1665-1799; Index to Marriages, 1848-1878; and Civil War vouchers.
New York State Archives: African American link. Records: Slavery, military service, state institutions, performing arts, political radicalism, human rights and education.
Ohio State Archives and Libraries
Search page for Ohio births, marriages and deaths.
The Archives/Library of the Ohio Historical Society
, which is the State Archives of Ohio. It has the African-American Experience in Ohio
digital collection. Records: Manuscript collections, newspaper articles, serials, photographs and pamphlets.
Pennsylvania State Archives: Guide to African American Resources.
List of records and publications.
South Carolina Department of Archives and History: Books About African American History, available at the Archives and Gift Center Gift Shop; and African American Historic Places in South Carolina (pdf).
Tennessee State Library and Archives: African American Genealogical Resources @ TSLA. Records: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen's Bureau); Freedman's Savings & Trust Company Index to Deposit Ledgers; Civil War Colored Confederate Pension Applications; and manumission records. The archives will email records out of state for a fee.
Resources for African American Genealogical Research (pdf). List of records available at the Library of Virginia.
Karin D. Berry is a newspaper journalist and freelance writer who has been researching her family history since 1988. Her articles, book reviews and op-ed articles have been published in Essence, Black Enterprise, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Macon Telegraph, the Baltimore Sun, the Evening Sun, Emerge and the Philadelphia Daily News.