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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Research: African American Ancestors  by Michael Hait, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Other Sources

Deed records

Many researchers are astonished to discover that their ancestors purchased land within the first twenty years of the Civil War. Before Jim Crow laws removed much of their opportunity for economic growth, many African Americans indeed purchased land. Land ownership was one of the most concrete ways that former slaves could exercise their freedom.

Tax lists

Similar to the 1867 voter registration records, tax lists during the period 1865-1870 (and afterwards) may constitute early evidence of newly-freed African Americans in the southern states. Even when no property was owned, citizens often owed annual poll (or “head”) taxes. African Americans may have been listed separately in the tax lists. In some cases, they may have been identified under their former slave owners for several years after the Civil War.

State census records

Just as discussed earlier when looking for alternative sources to get past the missing 1890 federal census, state census records are also available at other times throughout the nineteenth century. State census records are available in 1865 and afterward for Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Suggested Reading

  • Baker, Bruce E., What Reconstruction Meant: Historical Memory in the American South (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007).
  • Donald, David Herbert, et al., The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Norton, 2001).
  • Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Harper Collins, 1988).
  • Lainhart, Ann S., State Census Records (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1992).
  • Mills, Gary B., Southern Loyalists in the Civil War (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1994).
  • Nordman, Christopher A., “Substitutes for the 1890 Census” NGS NewsMagazine, October¬-December 2007, pages 23-26.
  • Pinnick, Timothy N.,Finding and Using African American Newspapers (Wyandotte, Oklahoma: Gregath Publishing Company, for the author, 2008).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: African American Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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Category:African Americans