The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

February 9, 2014

Internet has resources in search for black ancestors

The Commercial-News

— February 2014 has again been designated as Black History Month. Searching for black ancestors can be challenging, but the Internet provides some helpful resources to assist in the hunt.

For example, at the US National Archives & Records Administration has provided a booklet, “African American Research,” with a variety of links to resources at the NARA. They include special issues of “Prologue” (NARA’s publication), Freedman’s Bureau records, military records, and more.

The Library of Congress has provided a collection of slave narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, at It contains “more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.” One may search by keywords and/or browse the narratives. The website also provides links to directions for viewing the documents and photographs. Be sure to click on the Special Presentations link, “An Introduction to the WPA Slave Narratives,” by Norman R. Yetman

The Illinois State Archives has also provided a booklet, “African-American Records,” at, which includes information on specific African-American records in the Illinois State Archives and its Illinois Regional Archives Depository system. These include Servitude and Emancipation Records (1722-1863) and Military Service Records (1861-1899).

The Genealogy Center of the Allen County (Ind.) Public Library has prepared a most extensive list, African American Gateway, at with links to archives, special collections, newspapers, history, photographs, and inventors, as well as a bibliography for further study. This website should be bookmarked, since it contains material to be accessed often.

FamilySearch has prepared a guide, African-American Resources for Illinois, at The website includes a brief history, a list of Illinois repositories with African American collections (with addresses and phone numbers), published sources, and websites. One also may click on the link to African-American Online Records for faster access to those resources. For similar guides to other states, substitute a state name for “Illinois” in the URL shown above.

Genealogist Joe Beine, whose guides cover a variety of subject, has provided a useful list, African American Genealogy Records on the Internet, at In addition to links to general listings for slave records, census records, and bank records, his state-by-state list of links can be most helpful.

Origin of month

What we now call Black History Month originated in 1926 and was founded by Carter G. Woodson (1795-1950), the son of former slaves, as Negro History Week. The month of February was selected because both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born in February. In 1976 Black History Week was expanded to Black History Month — a month “set aside to learn, honor, and celebrate the achievements of black men and women throughout history.” (From 20th Century History.)

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