African-American Sources for Virginia

Finding African-American and Native American ancestry has the challenge of color and discrimination.  Yet, you can benefit from these important identifiers as you search the records.

And historical scholars, as well as genealogists, have now supplied key elements that will enable you to progress  more rapidly with your genealogical proofs than ever before:

The Virginia Library, announced in Oct 2006, that they would lead the way in digitizing African-American historical information.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Records for Virginia were microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as part of their larger project of more than 1,000 rolls of film.  The 203 rolls that apply to Virginia were scanned by the Family History Library and indexed by Virginia volunteers marshaled by the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.  These volunteers utilized as a pilot program for subsequent extraction of the records in other Southern states.

The Freedmen’s Bureau issued orders to local clerks of the Circuit Courts to legalize slave marriages.  Those for Virginia  now online include–Hanover County, Gloucester County, and Augusta County.  See Prologue, vol 37  (Spring 2005) for a descriptive article on the Freedmens’ Bureau. The original records for Augusta, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Goochland, Louisa, Prince Edward, Richmond, Roanoke, and Surry are located at the Library of Virginia.  You can search these records at

Those counties not listed, probably still have their records at the county courthouse.  For example, Carla Henderlong told me that the marriage/cohabitation records for Smyth County were found a short time ago in the back of a drawer at the clerk’s office.  The Library of  Virginia has now placed 90 marriages in Smyth County online from these newly-discovered documents.

These records are filled with genealogical details, including the names of the children born to that couple.

A second reference that you may find useful is the book by Kevin Dulany Grigsby, Howardsville:  The Journey of an African-American Community in Loudoun County Virginia. This interesting volume, from the new book shelf at the Family History Library, was published by the author in 2008.  Requests for copies: 47 families residing in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, both black and white, are covered.

Please stay tuned in for some additional studies of these ethnic groups that will aid your research, including a glossary of words identifying African-American families in the records. Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle.

PS  Keep in mind, when you profile an ancestor you discover your roots more quickly and correctly.  The word profile has a negative connotation and is considered politically, and soon legally, incorrect.  In the past, distinction and identity result.

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