The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 3, 2013

Resources aid black history research


February has once again been designated as Black History Month and therefore it seems appropriate to cite references to aid anyone researching the ancestry of African Americans.

Many researchers do not realize the important role of African Americans during the Revolutionary War. The National Archives and Records Administration has published a 29-page booklet, “List of Black Servicemen Compiled From the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records,” which is available (free) to read or download (as PDF file) at One also can request a free copy by writing NARA, Customer Service Center (NWCCI), 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20408-0001 or by calling toll-free (866) 325-7208. Be sure to read the introduction, which explains how the list was compiled.

Another free booklet that can be requested from NARA, “List of Free Black Heads of Families in the First Census of the United States,” also may be read/downloaded at

As stated in the introduction of this booklet, “On March 1, 1790, President Washington approved the First Census Act. This act did not directly provide for the enumeration of free black persons, specifying only that all free persons (whites or ‘other persons’) should be listed …. Censuses were taken in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. However, when the Capitol in Washington was burned by the British in 1812, the censuses for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee and Virginia were probably destroyed.” Also note, “There is also the possibility that many free blacks were not listed.”

At is a List of Free Genealogy Publications. Also, by clicking on the link on the left, Black Studies, one can learn of some inexpensive publications that are for sale: “Black History: A Guide to Civilian Records in the National Archives” and “Black Studies: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications.”

A link to another book, “Brain Quest — Challenge Your Knowledge of Black History” (a book for ages 9 and up), has 850 questions and answers, “from Selma to the State Department, Sojourner Truth to Kofi Annan and a language called Xhosa — how well do you know black history? (The book) celebrates 5,000 years of heroism, culture, struggle and achievement.”

Helpful guides

Noted genealogist Joe Beine offers many helpful genealogical guides on the Internet including his “African American Genealogy Records on the Internet” at In addition to his general listings (e.g., slave records, census records, bank records — some of which are obtainable from the subscription-based,, he provides links to records in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. His website should be bookmarked for future reference because he is always updating his lists.

Family Tree Magazine lists African American Genealogy Resources. Visit and click on “African American Genealogy Resources.” The three-page list of websites is sure to keep any researcher busy.

Queries, as well as a general exchange of genealogical material that readers would like to share, will be printed in the column for free. Contact Joan Griffis by e-mailing