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African American Genealogy and Family History

This guide will help you research African American genealogy and family history using primary source materials held at the Rubenstein Library and beyond

AfAm Genealogical Research

Broad interest in African American genealogical research increased during the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century and exploded after the publication of Alex Haley's novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, in 1976 and television network ABC's wildly popular adaptation of the book into a miniseries in 1977. Around the same time, the flowering of African and African American studies in higher education led to the production of several first-rate reference books and how-to guides for students, genealogists, and ordinary people interested in researching their own ancestry. Many of the guides published around the 1990s continue to be some of the best resources for African American genealogical research, including Charles L. Blockson's Black Genealogy (1991) and Tony Burrough's Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree (2001). Advancements in computer and communications technology and genetic testing for ancestry over the past thirty years have greatly expanded the kinds of resources now available to researchers. 

Reference Books:

Websites and Databases:

Black Past Digital Archives is an online reference center makes available a wealth of materials on African American history in one central location on the Internet. The digital archives page lists major digitized archival holdings in African American history. The archives are grouped by state. 

Smithsonian Libraries and Archives' Genealogy Research Guide 
This guide identifies a select list of resources of digital collections, subscriptions, print and online resources relating to American biography, family history, genealogy, and local history. The list highlights some of the subscription-based electronic resources available to researchers from the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.

U.S. Black Heritage Project
This project is a sub-project of the United States Project and the Global Black Heritage Project. It's mission is: 

  • To collect in one place information and resources to assist in building and documenting African-American Genealogies.
  • To create the largest online public database of connected African-American families.
  • To bring together WikiTreers interested in connecting African-American families to the Global Family Tree.
  • To improve the profiles of the people who emigrated and the people who were forced to emigrate from Africa to North America, specifically the United States, as well as improving profiles of their descendants.
  • To provide and maintain a logical and organized structure to help individuals identify their ancestors and celebrate their history.


General Genealogical Research

Although not focused on African American genealogy, these sources can help the novice researcher get started or the experienced researcher get unstuck. 


Stories of Discovery

Additional LibGuides

Duke University Library Research Guides

Family History and Genealogy - This guide includes sections on genealogy tools and forms; online genealogy resources; genealogy resources in Duke University Libraries; acronyms, jargon & abbreviations used in genealogy; African American Ancestor Research; and Native American Ancestor Research.

African American Studies - Discover Duke collections in African American studies and learn where to search for books, articles, media, primary sources, and data related to topics in the discipline.

African American History Manuscript Collections in the Rubenstein Library - Among the voluminous items of archival and manuscript materials in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is a wealth of material concerning African American history and culture. This guide highlights single items and multi-box collections that center African American experiences. 

African American Women's History Resources at Rubenstein Library - This guide highlights material within the holdings of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library ranging from the early days of slavery to the present that document African American women's stories, many of which can be found just underneath the surface.


Other Library Research Guides

Enoch Pratt Free Library Guide to African American Genealogy

Moorland-Springarn Research Center's "Genealogical Research and the Moorland-Springard Research Center” Research Guide

Avery Research Center for African and African American History Guide to Genealogy 

State Library of North Carolina #Everything NC Genealogy Guide

Library of Congress African American Family Histories and Genealogies Resource Guide

Library of Congress African American Genealogical Research Guide