Researching African American slave ancestors before 1870 has a unique set of challenges and requires the use of additional resources and techniques. As enslaved people they were referenced almost exclusively by only a first name and were referenced on slave schedules by age, sex and sometimes by their complexion. The path to researching our enslaved forefathers lies on a parallel track of those whose land they cleared, fields they plowed, roads, houses, schools they built, meals they cooked and children they minded. Probate records, deeds of sale, the 1867-69 voters registration sheets, ship manifests, reminisces and journals of slave owners, civil and criminal court records as well as birth, marriage, death and obituaries published in African American newspapers provide the clues necessary to piece together the lives of slaves and their descendants.
My known ancestors arrived in Louisiana sometime in the early 1830s to mid 1850s. They lived primarily in St. Mary and St. Charles Parish, but may have lived in the New Orleans and Opelousas area while enslaved. The earliest known surnames in my family are Phillips, Smith, Williams, Gibson, Morgan, Hill, Alexander, Edwards, Provost, Robertson, Schaffer, Guy and Jenkins.
I am researching the trek my ancestors made from Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas. I am specifically focusing on the counties of Conecuh, Monroe, Tuscaloosca and Pickens in Alabama; Jefferson County, Mississippi; and Ashley, Bradley and Drew counties of Arkansas. There appears to be a high density of persons within these counties whose DNA match my family. The counties in Texas that seem to also have high concentrations of person with matching DNA are Cass, Navarro, Robertson and Fayette.
Common surnames that seem to repeat are: Beale, Ridgell, Adams, Gardiner, Graham or Ingram, Johnson, Martin, McClendon, Powell, Stallworth, Utsey, Vaughn and Watts.
This site is to help uncover the stories of those African American ancestors and how they were moved across the U.S—their Ellis Island stories.
Please share your research success stories and tips!