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Dear Ms. Rosalind Smith,
Thank you for contacting the History Hub!
The 1870 Federal Census was the first time that African Americans were included in the registry, so prior to that only freed individuals were listed in the census. That might explain why you are having trouble locating any documentation about her before that year. There are a couple of different steps you can take to try and find out more information about her.
The Freedmen’s Bureau records from the National Archives could have more information for you. Post-Civil War, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen’s Bureau) was in charge of establishing programs to help former slaves and displaced persons. The Bureau created marriage documentation for former slaves, which might give you more information about your ancestor’s family and background. Go here to find out more about these records. Please click on this link to see more resources from NARA that could assist you in your search.
Because you know that your great-grandmother lived in Cusseta, Georgia after the war, you might try the local courthouse to see if there are any documents pertaining to her time there. If you knew the name of the slave owner, you could look at the 1860 Federal Census Slave Schedule to find out information about the slaves he owned, which may lead you to more information about your great-grandmother. PBS has an excellent article about taking these steps to locate enslaved ancestors. You can find that article here.
Thank you for using History Hub, and best of luck in your research!
3 people found this helpful
Hello Ms. Smith:
In addition to the records of federal government agencies that are available at the National Archives, information on people held in bondage may be available through the records of individual plantation owners and firms that traded in slaves, and in the correspondence and reminiscences of former slaves. Many of these records have been destroyed by war and neglect, but significant documentation still exists. The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress holds a number of collections that contain material relevant to your subject.
In the 1930s, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration, later renamed Work Projects Administration (WPA), conducted interviews with hundreds of people across the South who were born into slavery prior to and during the Civil War. As it exists today, the records of the Slave Narrative Project contain more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. The interviews have been digitized and made available through the Library of Congress website in a presentation titled “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938”. The online narratives can be browsed by state, and by name thereunder.
Another source for the slave narrative interviews is the book series American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, edited by George P. Rawick (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Co., c. 1972-1979), shown in the Library's catalog here. Volumes 2 to 17 contain narratives from the LC collections, but two supplements contain interviews found in other repositories throughout the South. The book series may be available in a library in your area.
The Manuscript Division holds four large privately published microfilm sets that reproduce collections from libraries and archives around the South. One of these is the Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, published by University Publications of America (UPA). The series features selections from the Library of Congress and the Southern Historical Collection, as well as from major Southern repositories. It contains many sections and sub-sections, and consists of over 1,400 reels of microfilm It’s described in the Library of Congress catalog here.
Although material from Georgia might be found in different places in the series, two sections that specifically mention Georgia are:
Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series F, Selections from the Duke University Library, Part 1: The Deep South, and Part 2: South Carolina and Georgia. Finding Aid.
Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series J, Selections from the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, Part 04: Georgia and Florida. Finding Aid.
The finding aids provide details on the contents of the microfilm, along with indexes of names, places, and subjects.
Another microfilm edition that may be useful is Records of Southern Plantations from Emancipation to the Great Migration, published by UPA/LexisNexis from 2001-2004. Series A, Part 3 of that series consists of selections from Duke University that cover Georgia plantations. Finding Aid.
Records documenting the sale and movement of slaves between states may be available in the state and county government archives of the former slave states. These records may exist in the form of deed books, bills of sale, tax records, estate records of deceased owners, and their wills. County records containing these documents are often microfilmed and copies held by the state government at its archives.
A third microfilm edition, titled Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks (UPA/LexisNexis, 1999-2005), contains petitions to southern legislatures, 1777-1867 (Series I), and petitions to southern county courts, 1775-1867 (Series II). The petitions were submitted by individuals or groups of people on a range of topics concerning race and slavery.
Other relevant material might be in the microfilm Southern Women and Their Families in the 19th Century: Papers and Diaries (UPA/LexisNexis, c. 1991-2007) that reproduces the papers of individuals from throughout the South before and after the Civil War. The Manuscript Division holds Series A through H, each with its own finding aid and index.
Librarians in the Manuscript Division would be glad to tell you more about these resources. You can get in touch through Ask A Librarian or by telephone at 202-707-5387.
Good luck with your research!