Resources to Trace African American Slave Ancestry

FamilySearch recently announced it is working with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum to crowdsource the online indexing of 1.5 million Freedman’s Bureau records that FamilySearch has put online.

This is a great resource to start learning about African American slaves in early American history. Is it possible to find out more about these slaves – the actual stories of their individual lives? Can we know what happened to each one?

photo of a slave cabin

Photo: slave cabin. Source: Library of Congress.

In some cases, yes – we can.

There are two key sources for these African American slave stories.

Slave Stories in Newspapers

Some of these black slave stories can be found in old newspapers. GenealogyBank’s 1.8 billion news stories are available – with unlimited downloads – at a nominal monthly or annual fee, making them easily available to genealogists everywhere.

a montage of newspaper articles about former slaves

As the nation grew so did newspapers – and newspapers recorded and preserved our ancestors’ stories.

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For example, in newspapers we can learn the story of 79-year-old “Uncle Reuben” Taylor who grew up a slave on a farm near Baltimore, Maryland, was freed in 1863, and launched his career over the next 57 years delivering coal in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) 31 December 1920, page 7 tells us that he then retired to live with his daughter in Chicago.

Dig in and find your ancestors’ stories in GenealogyBank’s newspaper vault 1690 to Today.

a montage of newspaper articles from African American newspapers

Note that GenealogyBank also has a special search for our expansive online collection of more than 260 African American newspapers, which contains some of the earliest black publications such as Frederick Douglass’ Paper, an early anti-slavery newspaper by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Access our African American newspaper archive here:

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938

The Library of Congress has digitized and put online the collection of all 2,300+ first-person interviews with former slaves that were conducted by the Federal Writers’ Project from 1936-1938.

a photo of three ex-slaves interviewed for the by the Federal Writers’ Project from 1936-1938

Source: Library of Congress

These one-on-one slave interviews are invaluable.

The typescripts retain the tone of the person being interviewed. Reading the pages, you quickly can “hear” them speaking to you today.

Robert Bryant lived in Herculaneum, Mississippi – here is his story.
Find his story – and the story of thousands of others in this online collection.

ex-slave Robert Bryant's story as told to the Federal Writers’ Project

Source: Library of Congress

Real people. Real stories. Real lives.
These stories give you the opportunity to glimpse the life of a slave – as told one story at a time.

Get to know them – read and experience their stories.

Related African American Slavery Articles:

FamilySearch’s Discovery Center: My Family’s Fun with Family History

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan describes a recent visit she made with her three children to FamilySearch’s new Discovery Center.

I’m a single mom of three kids: a 16-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl, and an 11-year-old boy. As the children of a genealogist, they are what is affectionately termed “genealogy orphans.” This means that I get so excited about my research that the kids have to drag me down to dinner instead of the other way around. It also means that family vacations often involve an archive – and my idea of a fun family activity is walking around a cemetery. Needless to say, they aren’t as fond of these genealogy activities as I am. In fact, I’m likely to get three simultaneous eye-rolls when I start a conversation with, “You will never guess what I just found!”

FamilySearch’s New Discovery Center

Recently a friend of mine, Randy Hoffman, told me about FamilySearch’s new Discovery Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was super excited! Randy is involved in the operation of the center and he described it as “a way to bring the fun back into family history” and a “great family activity.” I immediately signed up to go and happened to be one of the first groups to visit.

Strategically, I didn’t tell the offspring where we were going until just before we got there. Then I stated that we needed to do my friend a favor and find out if his recent project was any good. Being naturally helpful people, they were willing to go along with this as long as we didn’t spend too much time there.

Upon entering the brand new Discovery Center they were presented with their very own iPad to use during the tour. That won them over. My kids, like most, are suckers for technology. They were instructed to take a selfie, which they all managed easily. However, they had to help me get one that looked decent. Apparently, there is an art to taking a self-portrait. My daughter, as you can see below, had no trouble.

photo of Duncan Kuehn's daughter


Discover My Story

Once we signed into our FamilySearch accounts, we snapped the iPads into the first docking station: “Discover My Story.” Our iPads projected information about our names onto a large screen. This elicited excitement. “Hey, look at this!” the youngest called out. He found that in the 2010 census there were only 16 other people named Jasher in the entire United States. He declared that all the Jashers of the country should get together and swap stories about having such a unique name.

map showing where people named "Jasher" live in the U.S.


My oldest child, a newly licensed driver, was enamored by the price of gasoline over the years. He declared that he wouldn’t mind paying the five-cent price for a gallon back in Great-Grandpa’s day. There may even have been a hint of amazement in his voice that Great-Grandpa had, indeed, been telling the truth when he said, “Back in my day…”

graphic showing the price of various commodities in 1998


Explore My Story

At another docking station was a mapping tool called “Explore My Story.” When you plugged in here, pins dropped all over the world map to indicate where each of your ancestors was from. Unfortunately, my map was fairly bland since my ancestors have been in the United States for many, many generations – and then my ancestry hops back to the United Kingdom. My kids on the other hand are half German from a fairly recent migration, so their maps had more variation. What was most interesting to me was the ability to click on a pin and get information about that ancestor. And guess what I found! Many of my ancestors had multiple stories attached to them – long, interesting stories. And photos! No way! How did I not know this? Probably because I am so busy researching other people’s trees. But I was sure excited to do some poking around in my own tree that weekend.

Experience My Story

I really enjoyed the time machine, or what they officially called “Experience My Story.” This room had a giant screen showing the interior of a house, and documented the changes in furniture and amenities over the years. I spent quite a bit of time in there going backward and forward in time to watch the changes.

Picture My Story

My kids, on the other hand, filtered in and out of that room. They had discovered the photo booth called “Picture My Story” and were capturing images of themselves in traditional dress from around the world. I was grateful the Discovery Center was an enclosed area (and we were the only ones there) because of their shrieks of laughter as each new photo got a bit more out of control, particularly from my selfie-obsessed daughter. Here’s a picture of me in an Armenian dress.

photo of Duncan Kuehn in an Armenian dress


Record My Story

Our favorite station, and the one we spent the most time in, was “Record My Story.” We plopped down together on a couch in front of a large screen. On the screen were various topics to discuss. Our first choice was: “Embarrassing moments.” I related the experience I had in 6th grade when my long-time crush finally noticed me. He was just saying hello for the first time as we walked across the playground when I slipped on some ice. I had, unfortunately, chosen a skirt to wear that day in an effort to impress him. Skirts and ice don’t go well together and you can imagine the outcome. I lay there horrified as everyone laughed. It was a horrible happening then; great story now. And now my memorable life event is recorded for all time and eternity in audiovisual format.

We stayed at that station for at least half an hour, having a great time together recording our personal stories. My kids and I were laughing and trying to outdo each other for the funniest story. Finally, the friendly couple in charge of the center had to gently inform us that our time was up. And for the first time ever, my kids were sad to leave a genealogy-related activity. They asked if we could get the cousins and come back. According to Randy Hoffman, that has been a common response. One little girl even asked if she could have her eighth birthday party there! Since the goal was to put the family fun into genealogy, I would say the center is a raging success.

On the way out, we paused to take this family photo. The picture immortalizes the day we all had fun at a family history experience.

photo of Duncan Kuehn and her three children


If you haven’t checked out the new Discover Center it’s worth a trip. The address is:

Joseph Memorial Building
Main Floor
15 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT

You can also schedule a visit here:

Have you had a recent family history experience that was fun for the whole family? Please tell us about it in the comments section!

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RootsTech 2015 Presentation: The Future of Genealogy – Indexed Obituaries

Are you attending the RootsTech 2015 genealogy conference this upcoming Thursday-Saturday, February 12-14? and FamilySearch International are teaming together to present a class on the power of indexed obituaries, and we’d like to invite you to join us!

The one-hour presentation, intended for all audience levels, will be this Thursday, February 12, at 4:30 p.m. in Ballroom B at the Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. The co-presenters will be Ross Allred, GenealogyBank Director, and John Alexander, FamilySearch Manager.

photo of the RootsTech genealogy conference


Whether you are going to RootsTech in person or following along at home, there’s an important first step you can take to get the most out of this important family history event: download the free RootsTech 2015 App. With the RootsTech conference app you can create your class schedule, learn more about the presenters and exhibitors, follow the conference via social media channels, and network with others. The RootsTech conference app is available for Apple, Android, and other mobile devices.

The Future of Genealogy – Indexed Obituaries

The presentation Ross and John will be making is Session ID RT1913 and entitled “The Future of Genealogy – Indexed Obituaries: Learn How FamilySearch and GenealogyBank Have Partnered in Creating an Indexed Obituary Collection.” You can download the class syllabus here:

Attendees will learn about the massive collection of obituaries (projected 500+ million obituaries in the U.S.) that are currently being indexed and published through the partnership of GenealogyBank and FamilySearch.

Obituaries tell the stories of people’s lives with a “treasure trove” of precious family information “locked away” in newspapers. Obituaries, unlike any other resource, have the ability to add incredible dimensions to an individual’s family history research. The unique life stories written, dates documented, and generations of family members mentioned are often only found within an obituary. The average obituary can contain the names of over 10 family members of the deceased – parents, spouse, siblings, children, grandchildren, and other relatives and friends.

Ross and John will present actual obituaries and show the number of familial relationships they contain, examine the multi-generational family tree information, and illustrate the life stories behind the names. They will demonstrate that through the power of obituaries, genealogists can find clues to help overcome the brick walls they encounter in their genealogical research. Examples will be taken from GenealogyBank and FamilySearch Current and Historical Obituary collections.

Speaker Bios

photo of Ross Allred, Director of

Photo: Ross Allred, Director of

Ross L. Allred is currently serving as Director of at NewsBank, inc. Ross currently manages Content Enhancement and Business Development at GenealogyBank and is Director over Ross has also served in additional roles in Marketing and Product since joining NewsBank in 2010. Prior to joining NewsBank, Ross was Interactive Marketing Director at, a company, and held multiple positions at including Self-Publishing Sr. Marketing Manager, Sr. Cross-Sell Manager and E-Marketing Campaign Manager. Ross holds an Interactive Marketing Communications Certificate from the University of Utah and B.S. in Accounting from Brigham Young University.

John K. Alexander heads the Newspaper and Obituary Publication efforts for FamilySearch. John has been with FamilySearch for over four years working as a Project Manager on Records Publication. John received an MA in History from the University of Utah in 2009 and a MLIS from the University of Washington in 2013. He is also a certified PMP. John worked at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library from 2006-2009.

Company Overviews, a division of NewsBank inc., is one of the largest and fastest growing exclusive searchable newspaper archives online for genealogy research. is home to over 6,700+ fully-searchable U.S. newspapers from 1690-today and more than 1.5+ billion genealogy records. Our online newspaper archive is one of the most comprehensive genealogy websites in the United States helping people discover, preserve and share their family history. It provides information on millions of American families, with newspaper articles that provide first-hand accounts of your ancestors’ lives that simply can’t be found in other genealogy resources: obituaries, birth and marriage notices, photographs, hometown news and more. In addition to its newspapers, GenealogyBank features more than 380,000 historical books and documents from 1749-1994 that include military records, widow claims, orphan petitions, land grants, casualty lists, funeral sermons, biographies and much more. Discover the stories, names, dates, places and events that have shaped your family story at

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at or through over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Come Join Us!

Whether you’re able to attend in person, or will be following presentations online from your home, we hope you can join Ross and John for their presentation this Thursday. Come see for yourself the power of indexed obituaries!

Also make sure you drop by booth #1129 and say hello to our friendly staff. See you there – or online!

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Records Lost in Typhoon Haiyan Are Replaced by Digital Copies

When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last year, it destroyed everything in its path including the local civil registration offices containing the area birth, marriage and death records.

According to a recent article in the Deseret News:

“By the time the storm got to Tacloban, there was a storm surge behind it with 10-foot waves that went inland for about two miles,” said Derek B. Dobson, FamilySearch senior program manager for Asia and the Pacific, in describing the Nov. 8, 2013, devastation. “So anything that was right there on the oceanfront just got hammered and devastated by these waves.”

picture of the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Deseret News newspaper article 14 November 2014

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 14 November 2014

The destruction left in Typhoon Haiyan’s wake was clear and total.

The local governments began the process of rebuilding, setting up offices in tents and mobile homes. Fortunately for these communities, ten years earlier they had worked with FamilySearch to have all of their records digitized.

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From the Deseret News article:

Having digitally captured the records, FamilySearch recently donated copies back to the cities where the records had been copied: Tacloban and the smaller municipalities of Guiuan, Hernani and Marabut, located on the island of Samar.

picture of officials recovering from destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Deseret News newspaper article 14 November 2014

Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 14 November 2014

Click here to read the complete story from the Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 14 November 2014.

Wow. A clear reminder of how important it is for each of us to make secure backup copies of our own personal family history records, photographs and documents.

Do it now.
Start today to add your family history to online sites. Start scanning and putting your family photos online. Don’t try to do it all at once; set aside time each week and keep at it.

Let us know what you are doing. Share your tips.
We can do this.

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Massive Online U.S. Obituaries Project Will Make It Easier to Find Your Ancestors

announcement of a partnership between FamilySearch and GenealogyBank to index obituaries

FamilySearch International ( and GenealogyBank ( today announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. It will be the largest—and perhaps most significant—online U.S. historical records access initiative yet. Find out more at:

The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present. The completed online index will be fairly comprehensive; for example, it will cover 85% of U.S. deaths from the last decade. The indexed death records collection will easily become one of the most popular online databases ever.

Obituaries Provide Information—and Stories

Obituaries can solve family puzzles, tell stories, dispel myths, and provide tremendous help with family history research.

Finding your ancestors’ names in obituaries has never been easier. Through the FamilySearch and GenealogyBank partnership, the valuable information contained in obituaries—including the name of the deceased, surviving family members’ names, their family relationships, locations, and dates—will be indexed, making it easier for genealogists to discover new relatives and gain a deeper understanding of their family’s past.

A single obituary can include the names and relationships of dozens of family members. For example, this obituary for James Thayer Geddes sheds light on where he lived during his lifespan, his education, his career choices and his personal interests, as well as providing information connecting five generations of ancestors and descendants in his family tree.

obituary for James T. Geddes, Rutland Herald newspaper article 9 October 2006

Rutland Herald (Rutland, Vermont), 9 October 2006

Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch, explained that obituaries are extremely valuable because they tell the stories of our ancestors’ lives long after they are deceased. He invites online volunteers to help unlock the “treasure trove” of precious family information locked away in newspaper obituaries.

“Billions of records exist in U.S. obituaries alone,” Brimhall said. “The average obituary contains the names of about ten family members of the deceased—parents, spouse, children, and other relatives. Some include much more. Making them easily searchable online creates an enormously important source for compiling our family histories. The number of people who will benefit from this joint initiative is incalculable.”

GenealogyBank’s growing collection currently has over 7,100 historical U.S. newspapers, spanning more than 200 years. The death notices in these publications go beyond names and dates. They can provide insightful firsthand accounts about an ancestor that simply are not available from censuses or vital records alone.

“Obituaries, unlike any other genealogy resource, have the ability to add incredible dimensions to an individual’s family history research. They contain a wealth of information including facts and details that help capture the legacy of those who have passed on,” said Dan V. Jones, GenealogyBank Vice President. “The unique life stories written, dates documented, and generations of family members mentioned are often only found within an obituary, which makes them such an invaluable resource. Obituaries have the unique power to tell a story and enable individuals to learn more about their family relationships. GenealogyBank is proud and excited to partner with FamilySearch in bringing these obituaries to researchers all over the world.”

Volunteers Are Key to Project’s Success

The success of the massive U.S. obituary indexing campaign will depend on online volunteers. The obituaries are fairly simple to read, since they are digital images of the typeset, printed originals that appeared in the newspaper, but require human judgment to sort through the rich historical data and family relationships recorded about each person. Information about online volunteering is available at A training video, indexing guide, detailed instructions, as well as telephone and online support, are available to help new volunteer indexers if needed.

Work has already begun by tens of thousands of volunteers to transcribe the information from GenealogyBank’s vast U.S. obituary collection to make it quickly searchable online. Find out more at:

About FamilySearch

FamilySearch International is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Millions of people use FamilySearch records, resources, and services to learn more about their family history. To help in this great pursuit, FamilySearch and its predecessors have been actively gathering, preserving, and sharing genealogical records worldwide for over 100 years. Patrons may access FamilySearch services and resources free online at or by using over 4,600 family history centers in 132 countries, including the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.