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The information presented on this page was originally released on February 16, 2012. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Use Internet resources to research genealogy
February is African-American history month. If celebrating your heritage has you digging for the roots of your family tree, consider using the Internet for help.
Genealogy research is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in America. More and more people want to know where they came from and how they ended up here. The Internet offers many useful tools to those of us who cannot travel to visit historical archives in other states or the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
African-American genealogy is perhaps one of the hardest to research because records are often scarce. However, there are many reputable websites that can help you jump-start your search.
With any genealogical research, you must first start with what you know. Use living relatives to create a timeline of people, places and events. Be sure to note where family members were born and where they died.
Once you have traced back as far as you can, continue your search on the Internet or your local library. Many databases, such as the federal census, are available at your local library or at your home if you have a library card. Otherwise, you will need to use websites, such as Ancestry.com, to access the census records. The 1940 census will be made available to the public for free in the next three months. The 1880 federal census is available for free on the Familysearch.org website.
Census records are a great place to find information. Remember that Mississippi and some other states conducted their own censuses in the years between the federal censuses. Mississippi’s information can be accessed online at http://tinyurl.com/mscensus from the Mississippi Department of Archives.
African Americans have a long history of serving in the military, and military records are an excellent source of information. The Mississippi Department of Archives keeps an extensive list of records online at http://tinyurl.com/msmilitary. However, they have access to pension files only for those who served in the Confederate army or navy. If you are looking for someone who served in the Union army, consider searching the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/military/. Records from World War II are difficult to come by because most were destroyed by fire.
The Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contracts, available at http://tinyurl.com/msfreedman, can be very helpful to African-American researchers looking for other records. The Freedmen’s Bureau of Marriage Records can be found at http://freedmensbureau.com/marriages.htm.
The Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children from 1850-1892 and from 1908-1957 list school-aged children in Mississippi from those time periods. This resource can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mseducable.
If using the Internet to find your family’s roots has you confused, consider contacting your local Extension office or e-BEAT representative at http://srdc.msstate.edu/ebeat/ to schedule a class in your county.