5 Tips for Researching Your African-American Ancestry

February is Black History Month, and a good time to focus on researching your African-American ancestry. We've put together a list of 5 tips to help you get started researching your African-American family history.

  1. Talk to living family members and write down what you know. Ask for names, birth and death dates, burial locations, obituaries, photographs or anything else that may help you with your research. There are lots of free genealogy forms online, like family charts and group sheets. Visit CyndisList, Ancestry, and Mid-Continent Public Library for free, downloadable charts and group sheets.
  2. Visit any branch of the Kenton County Public Library and use our databases! Popular genealogy databases include: Ancestry.com (free inside any branch of the Kenton County Public Library), FamilySearch.org, and the Chicago Defender (African-American newspaper with coverage from 1909-1975).
  3. Start with the 1940 United States Census and work your way back. Follow your direct ancestors through the U.S. censuses. If you have trouble finding ancestors in censuses, follow their siblings – you might find a connection to the next generation more easily by searching for their siblings.
  4. Getting past the 1870 & 1860 censuses can be difficult, but looking at the families who lived around your ancestors may provide you with clues. Former slaves often did not move far away after emancipation. If you think your ancestors were slaves, look at the white families living nearby your ancestors in the 1870 census. Then, look at those families in the 1860 census to learn if they were slave-holders. You may also want to look at the 1860 and 1850 U.S. Slave Schedules - slaves were not recorded on the U.S. Censuses in either 1860 or 1850. Although the slave schedules often did not list individuals by name, they may provide you with additional clues about your family.
  5. DNA tests are a popular option for finding connections to your family history. DNA tests can tell you more about your ethnic heritage, immigration patterns, and potentially help you make connections to living family members.

If you would like to learn more about doing African-American genealogy you can also schedule a one-on-one appointment for research assistance with a staff member of the Local History and Genealogy Department by calling (859) 962-4070.