In March 1999 LaRose, an AfriGeneas Mail List subscriber, wrote that she had received a response to a query that ended, "... It is almost impossible to trace a black beyond 1865 ...." She posted this message to the list:

"This a response I received from my inquiry. Anyone out there think this a lost cause? I'm open to any ideas. The part about researching slaves before 1865 being hopeless. I'm not giving up."

The following response from Alva Griffith is representative of the many encouraging words and suggestions for further research that she received:

"IT IS NOT A LOST CAUSE !!! DON'T EVER FALL FOR THAT ONE !!! The person who was "trying to help" just didn't know how, and rather than be so discouraging should have stated that, and tried to educate himself on the correct methods for doing so. I cringe to think of how many people he may have talked into giving up, on the basis that Black research was hopeless !

The first and foremost thing to keep in mind is that Slaves Were Money !!! And people ALWAYS keep track of their money !!! If your people were slaves, they will be found, I said WILL BE FOUND, in the slave owner's family records, treated as PROPERTY, so you will need to look at their family's deeds, wills, mortgages, wedding gifts, court records about property, etc. And, yes, they often even have lists of slave births at the back of their Bibles ! The biggest initial problem will probably be determining just who the owner was, and there are methods for doing that... it just takes time, research and patience, sometimes with a little luck thrown in for good measure... after that, your people will be there, in their owner's records. If your people were not slaves, they will be found in the normal records in the normal places... a fair number of us were not slaves... perhaps your people were free and moved to a new location, and that is why you have not found them where you expected them to be living.

Also MANY slaves had more than one name, and had different last names from their owners... even BEFORE the end of slavery! A fair amount of them had 3-word-names as well: my husband's grandfather was Frank Thomas LOGAN- born in 1859, and he was a slave until he was 7 years old, just as his mother, Mary Louisa LOGAN, had been all her life; my own grandfather was born just after slavery in 1867, and his name was Aaron Mitchell RHODES.

There are a number of resource books that you can get to read about how to do this, the best (and latest) I know of being: Finding A Place Called Home, by Dee Parmer Woodtor, publ[ished] by Random House. Much help is also available HERE at Afrigeneas, where you can share the combined knowledge of numerous researchers by email. I note that you are also at AOL, where we have 3 chat rooms devoted to African American genealogy discussion live, and a Resource Area for your use. Please don't hesitate to take advantage of the many kinds of assistance available to help you find your people.

Best wishes, and GOOD HUNTING !!"


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Created: 20 Jun 1999 | Updated: 7 Jul 2003
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AfriGeneas ~ African Ancestored Genealogy