To find information on an enslaved individual, the owner must be identified. References to enslaved individuals are most often found in the records of the slaveholder. A former slave’s surname may be a hint because some former slaves took the surname of their former owner. Other former slaves had a surname while still enslaved, took the name of a previous owner, or simply chose a name. Some surnames changed between the end of slavery and 1870.
If an individual was born a slave between 1853 and 1865, he or she may be listed in Bureau of Vital Statistics birth records along with the name of the individual’s owner and mother. These records are indexed by the name of the owner, but the registers themselves may be reviewed if one knows the locality and approximate date that the individual was born. If a slave died between 1853 and 1865, he or she may be included in the Bureau of Vital Statistics death records, along with the name of his or her owner. There is no statewide index to these records.
The 1850 and 1860 slave schedules that are a part of the federal census provide the names of slaveholders in a locality and the age, sex, and color of slaves. Looking for slaveholders who lived near to where a formerly enslaved person lived in 1870, or slaveholders who owned slaves whose descriptions match those of the individuals for whom you are searching, may provide clues as to who the former slaveholder was.
Once the name of the slave owner is determined, search his or her records, including the 1850 and 1860 federal census slave schedules, deeds and wills (for names, ages, owners, and possible emancipations), personal property tax records (for numbers of slaves), personal papers that may include lists of slaves and other information about them, church registers, and court order and minute books for cases that may involve slaves.
Some slaves bought or were given their freedom. References to a slave obtaining his or her freedom may be found in a variety of records. Will books may include wills that state an owner’s intent to free slaves after he or she died. Deed books may contain deeds of manumission. Court order or minute books and judgments may include freedom suits (court cases in which an enslaved person sued for his or her freedom).
Black Genealogy Records
- Virginia Slaves Freed after 1782
- Pre-1820 Virginia Manumissions
Pre-1820 manumissions of individuals drawn from the extant deed and will books of Dinwiddie, Prince George, Chesterfield, Charles City, Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry, and Sussex Counties. Note that few records survive for this era from Dinwiddie, and Prince George Counties. Gathered as part of a larger study of the origins of the free black population of Petersburg, these counties were home to many of the free people of color who later moved to and registered in Petersburg.
- Virginia, Slave Birth Index, 1853-1866, index, incomplete.
Index and images of birth registers compiled by the WPA.
- Large Slaveholders of 1860 and African American Surname Matches from 1870, index
- U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878 index and images
- Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872
This collection corresponds with NARA microfilm publication M1913, Records of the Field Offices for the State of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872.
- TransAtlantic Slave Trade Voyages, index
This digital memorial raises questions about the largest slave trades in history and offers access to the documentation available to answer them. European colonizers turned to Africa for enslaved laborers to build the cities and extract the resources of the Americas. They forced millions of mostly unnamed Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas, and from one part of the Americas to another. Analyze these slave trades and view interactive maps, timelines, and animations to see the dispersal in action.
- Unknown No Longer: A Database of Virginia Slave Names
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture launched Unknown No Longer in 2011 to make accessible biographical details of enslaved Virginians from unpublished historical records in its collections.
- African American Families Database
The AAFD project is hosted by the Central Virginia History Researchers, a partnership among local historians, anthropologists, genealogists, and community residents. CVHR is developing a database for connecting African-American families to their antebellum roots and tracing patterns of community formation in the post-bellum period. We locate ante-bellum ancestors, and descendants of enslaved individuals, as well as visualize communities, research Projects, and map social networks.
- Patriots of Color, index
From the very beginning to the end of the Revolutionary War, men and women of color fought for American independence as soldiers, seamen, wagoners, skilled craftsmen, servants, laborers, etc. Revealing their identities and individual stories is the goal of our research efforts. The database on this web site is a summary of a portion of the information so far collected for each Patriot.
- Black Loyalists
Black Loyalist is a repository of historical data about the African American loyalist refugees who left New York between April and November 1783 and whose names are recorded in the Book of Negroes. In this first stage, the site concentrates on providing biographical and demographic information for the largest cohort, about 1000 people from Norfolk Virginia and surrounding counties.
- Virginia Cohabitation Records
The Cohabitation Records, officially titled, “Register of Colored Persons, Augusta County, State of Virginia, Cohabiting Together as Husband and Wife,” are a record of free African American families living in Virginia immediately after the end of the Civil War. The records were created by the Freedmen’s Bureau in an effort to document the marriages of formerly enslaved men and women that were legally recognized by an act of the Virginia Assembly in February 1866.
- African American Cemeteries of Tidewater Virginia and North Carolina
A space for the history, discussion, advocacy, and preservation of all cemeteries with burials of people of African/African American descent, in Tidewater, Virginia and North Carolina.
- African American Cemeteries Online
- Slave Data Collection
- Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware
The history of the free African American community as told through the family history of most African Americans who were free in the Southeast during the colonial period.
- African American Families of Virginia’s Eastern Shore
- Individuals and Families
- Descendants of Peter BECKETT
- Descendants of Ocher “Arthur” BRINNEY
- Descendants of Major CONQUEST of Accomack County, with photos and document scans.
- Descendants of Euphemia CONQUEST of Accomack County, Virginia
- Descendants of Obediah GODWIN, Sr.
- The Slaves of Charles STOCKLEY
- The Slaves of Kendall STOCKLEY
- Abimelech WEBB
- Records and Research Tools
- Individuals and Families
- Virginia African American Cemeteries
- Virginia African American Census Records
- Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Letters or Correspondence, 1865-1872
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (often called the Freedmen’s Bureau) was created in 1865 at the end of the American Civil War to supervise relief efforts including education, health care, food and clothing, refugee camps, legalization of marriages, employment, labor contracts, and securing back pay, bounty payments and pensions. These records include letters and endorsements sent and received, account books, applications for rations, applications for relief, court records, labor contracts, registers of bounty claimants, registers of complaints, registers of contracts, registers of disbursements, registers of freedmen issued rations, registers of patients, reports, rosters of officers and employees, special and general orders and circulars received, special orders and circulars issued, records relating to claims, court trials, property restoration, and homesteads. This collection corresponds with NARA microfilm publication M1913, Records of the Field Offices for the State of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872.
- Virginia, African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009
Images and index of funeral programs from the Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society of Virginia (MPAAGHS). Programs were donated to MPAAGHS by various individuals within the community. Images are loosely arranged alphabetically by the names of persons collecting and donating the programs and not alphabetically by the names of those in the programs. Some obituaries are included.
- Our heritage: Black history: Princess Anne County, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Post Civil War Research
In the decades after the Civil War, African Americans appear in almost any record imaginable, including census, tax, military, and vital records, as well as county and city court records. African Americans also began to publish newspapers and to create more of their own organizations, churches, and cemeteries. Individuals’ names may appear in these records as well.
Please use the state and county pages to search for black genealogy after the Civil war as most official records were no longer separate.
- Griggs, Cara F. African American Research at the Library of Virginia to 1870. PDF. Library of Virginia, 2015.