by Hillary Delaney
Family research is a hot topic, and this growing interest is keeping pace with rapid developments in DNA testing and online genealogy databases. Even with these new innovations, exploring family roots, though fascinating, is often frustrating. Some obstacles that can hinder family research include: missing documents, errors in records, name spelling confusion and simple misinformation. Most researchers will encounter at least one of these hurdles while working on family history. African American family research is particularly difficult, as most of the big hurdles are encountered only a few generations back.
Descendants of African Americans who lived in the U.S. before the Civil War nearly always encounter research challenges, particularly areas where enslavement was once legal. In most cases, records traditionally used by genealogists simply don’t exist for African Americans, prior to the 1870 census. Even in the case of free African Americans, traditional documentation was often overlooked and/or inconsistant. BCPL’s Local History and Genealogy department has been working to develop a repository of information to address the difficulties in finding formerly enslaved ancestors as a response to these research challenges. As a result of these initiatives, the story of Boone County’s African American families is emerging, filling in the missing pieces of our county history.
Separation of families, name changes, migration and lack of documentation are standard problems for anyone researching ancestors who were enslaved. These challenges require a layered approach; in other words, look everywhere. This can be both daunting and time consuming, especially for researchers who do not live nearby, but have Boone County roots. Today, anyone can access a spreadsheet of information about enslaved individuals in Boone County, which can help further family research and give insight into further discoveries.
The local sources used to develop this information include: probate and court documents, deeds, tax records, diary entries, local newspapers, family files and church records. Other sources include: military records, Freedmen’s Bureau records, non-local newspapers, and academic and government collections.
Users will find that, within the spreadsheet, some listings include only gender, approximate age and slaveholder’s name. In other cases, the information is fuller: name changes, slaveholder’s name and location, birth/death dates, migrations and personal histories.
Along with the database project and other online resources, BCPL offers a growing African American history collection. BCPL has been designated as an official research facility by the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom, for African American and Underground Railroad research. BCPL Local History and Genealogy staff is available to help with all types of family research and to break down those “brick walls.”
The Database of Enslaved People for Genealogical Research can be accessed through the online catalog search on our home page at www.bcpl.org