Starting your African-American research
I want to devote this column to guide those with African ancestry to begin learning about your ancestors; it will be important to your descendants.
One of the first questions to ask is whether all African-Americans have slave ancestry. The short answer is no. African-Americans whose ancestors came to the United States after 1865 likely do not have any slave ancestry. Therefore, tracking these immigrants may be far easier.
The challenge comes when researching the slave background. Slave trade to the American colonies and then to the United States began when the first Africans were brought to Jamestown, Va., in 1619. Until 1808, when slavery was officially banned, about 450,000 slaves were brought to North America. It is estimated that another 2 million Africans died on the voyage from Africa to North America.
Slave records are few and often non-existent. One factor that can make this a painstaking process is a lack of surnames for slaves. In addition, few records were made of births, marriages or deaths. Newspapers rarely carried obituaries of African Americans.