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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

Resources for Local, State, County and Other Records

State Departments: 

Department of State Archives: The NC State Archives maintains record collections that range from military records and newspapers to maps and organizational records. Documents can be digitized and emailed to researchers, as well as an online search function. They are also responsible for maintaining death records prior to 1930. 

State LibraryThe State Library maintains information related to the state's development and growth. the N.C. State Library offers free resources for family historians and researchers, as well as free online resources to support your research. Your library card can give you access to other resources housed on the State Library's website.


County Departments: 

Register of Deeds: The Register of Deeds maintains records related to land deeds, leases over three years long, deeds of trust, easements and other land based records. Each county's ROD maintains its own records. 

County Clerk of Court: In North Carolina, the County Clerk of Court is responsible for maintaining birth certificates before 1913, marriage records prior to 1962 and divorce records prior to 1958. To access these records, contact the County Clerk of Court in the county where your ancestor lived. 

Department of Vital Records: The Department of Vital Records maintains birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, divorce records and fetal death reports. Requesting records from this office comes with a processing fee, so it is recommended that you exhaust all avenues before contacting Vital Records for your needs. 


National Archives Census Records: Census records can provide the building blocks of your research. The first Federal Population Census was taken in 1790, and has been taken every ten years since.  Because of a 72-year restriction on access to the Census, the most recent year available is 1950. The 1950 Census was released on April 1, 2022. The National Archives has the census schedules available from 1790 to 1950, and most have now been digitized by our digitization partners. Family researchers generally find it most helpful to begin with the most current census and work backwards as a strategy for locating people in earlier generations.

Free Genealogy Databases

  • Internet Archive-Started in 1996, Internet Archive is an open data website that houses free websites, films, books and other material for the public's use and benefit. Anyone with a free account can upload documents to the Internet Archive. 
  • genealogy database maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this site aggregates documents and connects family members through family tree construction. There are also local genealogy centers attached to where you can go for in person support. 

  • Reclaim the Records-Reclaim the Records is an activist organization based in New York City that specializes in getting access to state records that are not digitized or available to the public through FOIA requests, digitizing them and releasing them to the public for free. All records caches are uploaded to open data sites like Internet Archive.

  • USGenWeb-Much like the Internet Archive, USGenWeb started in 1996 with the goal of making genealogy more accessible to the general public. There is now a database of over 300 linked websites and resources of genealogy organized by state.

Graves and Burial Sites

  •  BillionGraves is a community curated database of cemetery and grave information. Researchers can insert the names of ancestors and look for their grave sites as well as get information on the history of the cemeteries themselves. 
  • Cemetery Census is a growing volunteer run database, cataloguing cemeteries across the U.S. Currently, the database has detailed collections on cemeteries in Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, South CarolinaOhio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Professional Genealogy Associations

  • Association of Professional Genealogists: APGEN maintains a list of professional genealogists for more support with your research, as well as educational opportunities on genealogy research. 
  • National Genealogy Center: The National Genealogy Center offers resources for the professional genealogist and the family historian alike. They have a portal of free resources including fillable pedigree charts and steps to build your family tree, as well as a members portal with more in depth, self paced courses on family research and genealogy.  
  • Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society: This professional society offers resources such as free surname lists, forms to organize your research findings and links to free courses on genealogical research. 

Research and Archival Support

  • National Archives History Hub: This portal houses forums where researchers can pose questions to other researchers looking for specific record types, as well as space to connect with staff librarians at the National Archives related to a number of topics and collections. 
  • Library of Congress Local History and Genealogy Reference Services: This site details protocols for using the Genealogy Reading Room at the Library of Congress as well as bibliographies, reference guides and digitized materials from the LoC Collections. 
  • Build Your Archive: Sierra King is an archivist and artist whose work focuses on supporting Black people to document their family histories through Build Your Archive, which she describes as " interactive guide for preserving your personal history". Sierra's website offers training and technical assistance for genealogy and building a family archive with your research. 

Selected State/Local/County Reference Books

  • Black Family Research: Records of the Post-Civil War Federal Agencies at the National Archives compiled by Reginald Washington. United States. National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, DC : National Archives and Records Administration, 2003. LCCN 2003426109

  • County Courthouse Book: A Concise Guide to County Courthouses and Courthouse Record by Elizabeth Petty Bentley. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Pub. Co., 2009. 

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Using Tax Lists by Cornelius Carroll. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Pub. Co., 2008.

  • Checklist of Historical Records Survey Publications: Bibliography of Research Projects Reports by Sargent B. Child and Dorothy P. Holmes. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Pub. Co., 1999. 

  • Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thomas and William Dollarhide. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Pub. Co., 2007.

  • State Census Records by Ann S. Lainhart. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Pub. Co., 2008.

Freedman’s Bank Records. Salt Lake City, UT : Intellectual Reserve, Inc. : Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, c2000.