Help available to those seeking info on African-American ancestry

From The News-Gazette's Black History Month 2013 section, published Feb. 10, 2013.

Anyone researching African-American ancestry faces unique challenges. Fortunately, resources on the Internet, such as research guides and advice from experts, can be most helpful.

The Illinois State Archives offers a most helpful publication: African-American Records, Pamphlet No. 6 in its Genealogical Research Series, which can be seen and/or downloaded at http://bit.ly/10xRmX5. It informs readers "about the archives' unique holdings of Illinois African-American servitude, emancipation and military service records from the 18th and 19th centuries."

For example, the archives has created an online database of persons in the servitude and emancipation records for the counties of Bond, Edwards, Gallatin, Madison, Massac, Pope, Randolph, St. Clair and Union. They can be searched at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository website at http://bit.ly/Vks6H0.

The archives also has information pertaining to military records; the name index identifies the units in which the African-Americans served.

FamilySearch International, the not-for-profit volunteer organization sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has published many helpful guides. For example, African American Research — http://bit.ly/14aiYoG — includes links to pages for individual states. The guide pertaining to Illinois includes a brief history, a list of Illinois repositories with African-American collections, societies, published sources and websites. From the homepage mentioned above, the "Introduction" link takes one to a page with further helpful information. For example, the records of the Underground Railroad may help one determine if an ancestor was born free or freed by the slave owner. The link to the website of Illinois Afrigeneas (at http://www.afrigeneas.com/states/il) offers historical information on African-Americans in Illinois (including information on the Northwest Ordinance, which prohibited slavery.)

The genealogy center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind., has a most helpful website: African American Gateway — http://bit.ly/WMYGx4 — where one can click on a link to an individual state for links to that state's relevant websites plus a helpful bibliography.

From that homepage, one can also click on any of the following subjects: general, abolition, bibliography, biography, directories, education, genealogy guides, migration, military, Native Americans, reconstruction, religion, slave narratives, Underground Railroad and women.

The link to the subject called general also provides a must-see list of websites. Clicking on any one of them will take one to that website. The link to African-American Cemeteries Online can be further linked to Illinois, where cemeteries in Pulaski, Wabash and DuPage counties as well as Chicago are identified.

There is also a website/link to African-American Family Histories and Related Works in the Library of Congress, where the list of surnames is from Adams to Wrench.

Also, Missouri has created a how-to guide, found under African-American Genealogy. The Genealogy Center's list of websites is probably one of the most extensive on the Internet.

Noted genealogist Joe Beine has a most helpful website: African-American Genealogy Records on the Internet: A Directory of Some Helpful Genealogy Websites and Databases, found at http://www.genealogy branches.com/africanamerican.html.

Be sure to click on the link to Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938, which "contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves."

The website Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860 (Library of Congress) "contains over a hundred pamphlets and books (published between 1772 and 1889) concerning the difficult and troubling experiences of African and African-American slaves in the American colonies and the United States" containing trials, cases, reports, arguments etc.

Beine's link to Slavery Era Insurance Registry takes one to a website that includes documentation of slave owners and the slaves they owned (with dates and places.)

Beine's website also includes links to African-American-related sites in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Last but not least, Cyndi Howells' website, called Cyndi's List — http://www.cyndislist.com/african-american/general — includes links to many websites in addition to those mentioned above.

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at jbgriffis@aol.com or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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