The Freedmen’s Bureau/drawn by A.R. Waud (Library of Congress)

Post-Civil War records point to a common fate for many African Americans after emancipation.

Dear Professor Gates:

I’m searching for any information on my third great-grandfather Hardy Dykes, who was born in 1843. I assume that he was born in or near Hawkinsville, Ga. The only record I could find on him was in the 1870 census. He was married to Lucinda Dykes; she was born in 1837. They had many kids. I also believe that he was in the Civil War and that he once had land under the Freedmen’s Bureau. I don’t know if he had brothers or sisters, who his parents were or how he died. Please help me close the chapter on what happened to him. —Tamela

For most African Americans, after the end of the Civil War, the 1870 census was the first time they were identified by name in a federal census. In 1860 and 1850, those in bondage were considered to be property and listed (but not named) on slave schedules under the names of their owner, identified by race (“black” or “mulatto”), age and gender. Before that, property and probate records would have been the most likely documents to list identifying information for a slave (a previous column by Professor Gates has tips for decoding slave records).

Therefore, it’s not surprising that you haven’t turned up records about your ancestor Hardy Dykes before 1870. However, we made some headway in our research by focusing on the time frame between emancipation and 1880.

Hardy’s New Citizenship Leaves a Paper Trail 

Following the Civil War, all citizens in Georgia were required to sign an oath of allegiance in order to register to vote as a part of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. These records include white and black men who were eligible to be voters. Since the oaths were recorded in 1867 and 1868, they are often one of the earliest records to find formerly enslaved individuals recorded by name and a great resource for determining where they lived during slavery.

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The Georgia Reconstruction Oath Books record Hardy Dykes on July 13, 1867, at Pulaski, Ga. (via Ancestry.com; subscription required), and that he had lived there for at least 12 months. You can also view this record through FamilySearch, but you must be at a Family History Library to access them.

In the Returns for Qualified Voters, we found a Hardy Dykes whose race was recorded as black. Also included on the list of voters near him is a Clayton Dykes (similar in name to his son Jas. Clayton Dykes, listed in the 1870 census), whose race was also recorded as black; and a Jacob Dykes, who was white. Since these individuals share a surname and are in the same location, they may have a connection.

Life in Freedom May Have Followed Familiar Patterns

The freedmen may have gained the right to vote (one that would be proscribed in the years to come in the South by post-Reconstruction laws establishing poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures). However, they also emerged from slavery without livelihoods, property or means. Rumors abounded that they would receive land, the proverbial “40 acres and a mule” stemming from Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15, made in Savannah, Ga., in January 1865 (and overturned by President Andrew Johnson later that year, as Professor Gates noted in an Amazing Facts column for The Root). However, the immediate aftermath of the war brought disease and starvation for many; meanwhile, the plantations many left were struggling without their labor.

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The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (aka the Freedmen’s Bureau) was established to manage the transition to an economy and way of life in which all people were free. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “In the fall of 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau became active in administering the land program in Georgia and returned much black labor to the fields, mediating a contract-labor system between white landowners and their black workers, many of whom were their former slaves. ... ” Yet the terms of such contracts could be onerous to the freedmen. For instance, several complained in a letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau subassistant commissioner in Savannah that “to return to work opon [sic] the Terms, that are at Present offered to us, Would Be we Think going Backe [sic] into the State of Slavery that we have Just to some extent Been Delivered from.”

What we found in tax records—a great source for locating information on an ancestor between the end of the Civil War and the enumeration of the 1870 census—suggests that your ancestors may have been among those who worked for their former enslavers or at least within the same community of farm owners.

Hardy Dykes was recorded as a freedman working for D.H Hendley at Whitfield District, Georgia Militia District 764, in 1869. Also listed as freedmen working for D.H. Hendley were Joe Shivers, George Wood, Frank Hendley, Moses Johnson, Powell Bishop and Jack Hendley. These are all names that merit research, since the men may share a connection to your Hardy Dykes.

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Hardy Dykes was included in the first section of the tax book for 1872-1877, suggesting he was recorded closer to 1872. At that time, he was working for Allen Dykes at the Blue Springs District of Pulaski County, Ga. He is recorded again later in the book working for Miles Sanders, still in the Blue Springs District (probably about 1873 or 1874). By 1875, he was once again working for D.H. Hendley in the same place. Finally, about 1876 or 1877, Hardy Dykes was recorded in the Dupree District of Pulaski County as a defaulter —which could mean he had failed to pay his taxes or had not filed yet or was absent from the area.

The voter and tax records together tell you that Hardy Dykes was likely living in Pulaski County, Ga., at least until about 1876 or 1877. He may have had a close relationship with Clayton Dykes, who was recorded on the voter registrations directly next to him and is likely one of Hardy’s children. You can also gather that Hardy worked for several white men following emancipation, namely D.H. Hendley, Allen Dykes and Mile Sanders. Likely he was doing farm labor, since we located D.H. Hendley and Allen Dykes on the 1870 Agriculture Schedule. Each of these men ought to be investigated to determine if any could be a former slave owner of Hardy Dykes.

We began by searching for more information on D.H. Hendley, since he was the first and last employer of Hardy Dykes. The 1870 Agriculture Schedule records D.H. Hendley, Allen Dykes and Jacob Dykes all in close proximity to one another in Hawkinsville, Pulaski. The federal census the same year recorded David H. Hendley residing at Militia District 1236, Pulaski, Ga. Recorded further down the page is a 14-year-old Elizabeth Dykes in the household of Sylla Boon. On the following page was a white planter named Miles Saunders, and on the page after that was an 11-year-old house servant named Malissa Dykes in the household of William Codpepper.

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These two girls match the descriptions of the daughters of Hardy Dykes that were also recorded in his household the same year. The record of Hardy Dykes’ household was recorded on June 9, 1870, and the records for the households of Sylla Boon and William Codpepper were recorded on June 15 and June 16, respectively, making it likely that these records are for the same people. Therefore, take a look at Sylla Boon and William Codpepper as well.

Was Hardy in One of These Households During Slavery?

Any one of these white families could be a potential former slave owner. You could determine which were in the area during slavery. For example, in 1860, David H. Hendley was residing in Hawkinsville, Pulaski, Ga. He owned two slaves in 1860, according to the 1860 Slave Schedules. However, listed directly next to him was William Hendley, with 26 slaves, including a male born about 1845 who could match the description of your Hardy Dykes. You could search the slave schedules for the Codpepper, Boon, Sanders/Saunders and Dykes families, too. Once you determine which of them owned slaves, you could search for personal or estate papers to see if any mention Hardy or his known relatives.

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You could also search Freedmen Bureau records for Hardy Dykes as well as for his known relatives. When we did this, we noted a record for a Clayton Dykes who issued a complaint against E.B. Penick at the Hawkinsville Agency on March 2, 1868, for not paying him for work the year prior. We did not find a record for Hardy, but you could also search for the potential slave owners we identified, since they may be recorded in Freedmen records as employers.

To determine if Hardy Dykes ever owned land, you could search land records for Pulaski County, Ga. You could check the index for anyone with the Dykes surname as well as any of the known employers we identified.

If Hardy Dykes was born in Virginia, as some records suggest, and was brought to Pulaski County, you may be able to find a record of it in a collection called “Importation of Slaves 1818-1865 and Illegitimate Records 1841-1875 Pulaski County, Georgia.” The microfilm, which you could view at a Family History Library, was made from a manuscript at Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, Ga., according to the catalog note, so you could see if the originals are also held at a local historical society or repository.

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Finally: Researching the rest of Hardy Dykes’ children may help you learn more about him and his wife, Lucinda. For example, the Dec. 11, 1934, death record for their son, William Dykes, at Wilcox County, Ga., reveals that he was born at Hawkinsville, Ga. His parents were listed as Hardie Dykes and Loucindia Bolton, both born in Virginia. You could also search the 1880 census for his children that were recorded in 1870, such as this record for a Dolly Bozeman in Blue Springs, Pulaski, Ga., who is the right age to be Dolly Dykes and is in a location where you know the family resided. If you can trace his children forward, you may have a better sense of when and where Hardy Dykes died.


Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also chairman of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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This answer was provided in consultation with Meaghan E.H. Siekman, Ph.D., a senior researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 1 billion searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today about researching African-American roots.