You can do it.
It may not be possible for every family line, but I truly believe that every African American can break through the 1870 U.S. Census barrier for at least one person in their lineage.
What’s the deal with 1870? It’s the first national census to name freedmen. Many take that as the first time that the names of black people show up in writing.
That is categorically incorrect. Yes, it’s the first time that millions of formerly enslaved persons were named as they were enumerated on a United States census. However, our ancestors’ names appear many times over in more localized settings, i.e. county and state court records. Also, the personal and financial records of slaveholders indeed lists names and other treasures of information.
The key is for African American genealogy enthusiasts to trace their ancestry back to the 1870 U.S. Census. This may be a tall order for some, but I believe that with a keen eye and patience, most of us can take at least one line back there. Of course, it may be necessary to enlist the help of others in your search.
Breakthrough the 1870 census by locating the household of your ancestor. Pay special attention to their last name and try to connect it to a nearby slaveholder. Check the 1860 U.S. Census-Slave Schedule for names of slaveholders in the county.
From there, gather all the information that you can on any slaveholders with the matching last name of your ancestor. Review the 1860 Slave Schedule for potential description matches (age and sex) with your ancestor. Take it further by looking for any records pertaining to the same last name slaveholders.
This is not a failsafe. There are many reasons why checking for same slaveholder last names may not be a fit. Specifically, because freedmen, if nothing else, had the agency of choosing their own last name. They may have selected any name for any number of reasons. Still, checking for slaveholders with the same last name is a good first step.
Another thing to do is to take note of all of the other names on the same page, not just in the same household, as your ancestor in the 1870 census. Pay special attention to these names, as these are neighbors and potential relatives of your known ancestor.
Everything is a possible clue.
Remember this and you’ll breakthrough…
The Genealogy Situation Room