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Dear Ms. Topolski,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
A great way to begin is to talk to your various family members, especially the more senior ones, and ask them questions so you can gather names, dates, places, and stories. With that information in hand, you can begin to gather records about these family members and the places associated with them. The National Archives has a variety of resources, including the Guide to Black History on our African American Research web page to assist as you search for these records. At the bottom of the page, there are many links including the Freedmen’s Bureau Records web pages; African Americans - Reference Reports explaining how to research the Federal Census records and the Freedmen’s Bureau records by state; Reference Information Paper No. 108: Black Family Research : Records of Post-Civil War Federal Agencies at the National Archives; and Reference Information Paper No. 105: Records of Military Agencies Relating to the African Americans from the Post-World War I Period to the Korean War.
As you move backwards in time with your family history to pre-Civil war, we suggest reviewing the National Archives website on records pertaining to American Slavery and the International Slave Trade. In the Records of the U.S Custom Service (Record Group 36), there are 8 series containing slave manifests arriving to and from different ports with links to their descriptions from NARA’s Online Catalog and at which NARA facility they are located:
- Coastwise Slave Manifests, 1820-1860 (National Archives at Atlanta)
- Coastwise Slave Manifests, 1820-1858 (National Archives at Atlanta)
- Coastwise Slave Manifests, 1826-1830 (National Archives at Atlanta)
- Coastwise Slave Manifests, 1801-1860 (National Archives at Atlanta)
- Slave Manifests, 1817-1861 (National Archives at Fort Worth)
- Slave Manifests for the Port of Philadelphia, 1800 - 1860 (National Archives at Philadelphia)
- Slave Manifests for the Port of Annapolis, 1822 (National Archives at Philadelphia)
- Slave Manifests for the Port of New York, 1822 - 1852 (National Archives at Washington, DC)
Regarding lists of slaves on plantations in North Carolina, we suggest that the University of North Carolina Slave Database at https://library.uncg.edu/slavery/.
The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard have sponsored databases titled "Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database" and "African Names Database" (see http://www.slavevoyages.org/) with Emory University and its partners. The Slave Trade database contains information for about 36,000 slaving voyages and the African Name database identifies 91,491 African taken from captured slave ships or from African trading sites.
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture has gathered accessible biographical details of enslaved Virginians from unpublished historical records in its collections and called it Unknown No Longer: A Database of Virginia Slave Names.
And at the East Texas Digital Archives at Stephen F. Austin State University, the Texas Runaway Slave Project is a database of runaway slave advertisements, articles and notices from newspapers published in Texas, as well as materials from court records, manuscript collections, and books. It documents more than 2,500 fugitive slaves from Texas. The project is ongoing and new content is regularly added to the webpage.
We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!