African Americans of Virginia

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
Virginia sil.png
the Virginia Family History Research series.
History of Virginia
Virginia Vital Records
Census Records for Virginia
Background Sources for Virginia
Virginia Maps
Virginia Land Records
Virginia Probate Records
Virginia Court Records
Virginia Tax Records
Virginia Cemetery Records
Virginia Church Records
Virginia Military Records
Virginia Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Virginia Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Virginia Immigration
African Americans of Virginia
Virginia County Resources
Virginia City Resources
Map of Virginia

While county and city estate and property records remain the best sources for identifying slaves and their families, other records, such as lists of free persons of color, marriages, slave lists, apprenticeship bonds, trial dockets, lists of slave owners, church records, family and plantation records, account books, bills of sale, and other miscellaneous records can be found at the Library of Virginia, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, the Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, and the Virginia Historical Society.

Keep in mind that not every location in Virginia created or preserved each type of record listed above. In fact, the number of local records attesting to a specific slave is minuscule when compared to those available for people who were not enslaved. See:

  • Plunket, Michael. Afro-American Sources in Virginia: A Guide to Manuscripts. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1990.
  • Byers, Paula K. African American Genealogical Sourcebook. New York: Gale Research, 1995.
  • Heinegg, Paul. Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. 4th ed., Baltimore: Clearfield Publishing, 2001. Contains family histories or genealogies for the majority of 'all other free persons' listed in the 1790 and 1800 federal census.

Locate county records pertaining to African Americans available at the Library of Virginia by searching the online catalog using keywords 'African American' and the name of the county where an ancestor lived. For a case study approach to using slave records in Virginia, see Johni Cerny, 'From Maria to Bill Cosby: A Case Study in Tracing Black Slave Ancestry,' National Genealogical Society Quarterly 75 (March 1987): 5-14.