Pushing the clock back for your slave ancestors

Your search for African American ancestors needn’t end at 1860 or 1850.  Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have marriage records you can access.  And these can be a goldmine of information.  After the Civil War, marriage records for freed slaves and their children were registered.  When I accessed these records, I found the names of ancestors I’d been searching for but couldn’t find any other way.  For instance, the mother of  my great-grandfather Daniel Sheffey.

I couldn’t find his mother’s Christian Name, much less her Surname.  She didn’t live with him or his family in the 1870, 1880 or 1900 Census returns. Therefore, her name wasn’t recorded with theirs.  I didn’t have a name to search for and couldn’t find any information about her in any of the census records.  I only found her when I searched for Daniel’s marriage records.


This record produced a goldmine of information.  It gave the name of Daniel’s mother, Margaret Clark.  It also gave his wife’s maiden name (before this, I only knew her as Jane A. without a Surname) – and it gave the names of Jane’s parents (born in the 1820s – so I’d taken this slave ancestry journey well beyond 1850).  This meant I could do a family search on Mr & Mrs White in the 1870’s census in order to find Jane’s siblings.  I did a quick search on the White family and found them and their children in the 1860 and 1850 Slave Schedules too!

Last, but not least, the marriage record confirmed the name of Daniel’s father (which I knew already but was happy to have verified by another source – more about this in another post).

So one marriage record filled in quite a few blanks…and opened up new avenues.

The last interesting bit of information was that Daniel is listed as being ‘divorced’ in this record. Out of curiosity, I spelt Daniel’s name a slightly different way (using Daniel Sheffy instead of Daniel Sheffey) and discovered he had indeed been married before. Which answered a question I’d had about why there was such a large gap between his firstborn child and subsequent children with Jane White.

This research also proved another thing for me.  My paternal grandfather’s family had deep roots in Wythe County, Virginia.

Another source of ancestral information is Freedman’s Bank records. Just like it sounds, Freedman’s Bank was established at the end of the Civil War for freed slaves.  Why is it important?  Freed slaves typically listed other family members when they opened up accounts.  It sounds  a bit like ‘Big Brother’.  However, in terms of genealogy, it’s another great source of family information.

You can find out more about it and its records here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedman%27s_Savings_Bank

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