There’s little documentation on slaves, but there are unique and creative methods to get beyond that in genealogy, says Stephany Rose Spaulding, women’s and ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
“History is important for any community but specifically as African-Americans we need to record our history as much as possible. There is an African proverb that says “the hunter will always be glorified until the lion tells its story.”
Not all African-Americans have ancestors who were slaves. But most do, and getting information earlier than the 1870 Census “takes lots of effort, a lot of luck and a lot of research time,” says J Richards, education chairman of the Pikes Peak Genealogy Society.
Knowing where to look makes the task easier. The U.S. Census is the touchstone for most searchers, providing a treasure trove of information — family members’ names, ages, gender, occupations and sometimes income and education.
But most slaves, some who had no last names, were not fully enumerated on the census until 1870.
On the 1850 and 1860 censuses, slave schedules provide age, sex and names of owners. Occasionally a given name was listed, and information such as whether the slave had fled or had been freed.
After emancipation, many former slaves took their owners names. Others chose famous names. If they had unique names, it makes the research easier.
Some plantation owners kept diaries that have survived in research libraries. “Genealogy starts at home,” says Tim Blevins, special collections manager, Pikes Peak Library District. That includes interviewing families members. That information sometimes ferrets out documents. But even if it doesn’t, the family stories “gives texture to your history, not just names and dates,” he says.
Some local resources
•Pikes Peak Library District, Special Collections, Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave. Visit ppld.org.
• Pikes Peak Genealogy Society: Meets second Wednesday of month, Carnegie Reading Room, Penrose Library; 531-6333, ext. 2252.
• African-American Genealogical Society, 1628 W. Bijou St.; 385-7920, ext. 202.
• Pioneer’s Museum, “Anyplace North and South” exhibit of local African America history, 215 S. Tejon St.; 385-5990.
• North Family History Center, genealogy research, 8710 Lexington Drive; 534, 9621.
• Colorado Springs Stake Family History Center, genealogy research, 150 Pine Ave.; 634-0572.
• www.afrigeneas.com has obituaries, surnames and other archive materials.
• www.aahgs.org is the site of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.
• www.ppgs.org is the site of the Pikes Peak Genealogical Society.