Free African Americans of NC, VA & SC From the Colonial Period to About 1820 by Paul Heinegg: Book Review

DISCLAIMER: I received this complimentary three-volume set from Genealogical Publishing Company for the purpose of reviewing. I have also received other complimentary books from the same company for review. However, my opinions are my own and not influenced by others.

Free African American of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina From the Colonial Period to About 1820, Sixth Edition, by Paul Heinegg is a three-volume alphabetically organized directory of free African Americans, living pre-1820,  identified from primary source records in three Southern states.

This set was first published in 1992, with the 6th edition published this year.

Testaments to the quality of Mr Heinegg’s work are its two awards – Winner of the North Carolina Genealogical Society Award of Excellence in Publishing and The American Society of Genealogists’ Donald Lines Jacobus Award.

Given that the names in the books are in ABC order, it is simple to find family names.

However, each volume also offers slightly different supplemental information.

Volume I, which covers Families Abel to Drew, provides the key to abbreviations in the text and a complete list of the family names treated in the work plus an index covering Volume 1.

Volume II contains summaries for Families Driggers to Month, plus an index.

Volume III completes the series with Families Moore to Young, plus an index.

The last volume also has a 16-page bibliography of Sources used for the project. I love that the Sources are not just listed alphabetically, but grouped by state and then alphabetized by county.

Therefore, if one was reading about a family in, say, Cumberland County, Virginia, a quick glance would provide a source citation.

What type of information is found in a family sketch?

First, most entries are a page or less, which is to be expected, but there are many families whose patriarch/matriarch and descendants cover multiple pages.

For example, the Honesty Family begins with “Elizabeth Honest,” born c1725, a servant valued at £1 in the inventory of the estate of Presley Neale in January 1749/50 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Also included are details about her probably three children, Jane, John and Hannah.

Hannah’s entry shows her to have lived in Fairfax County, Virginia and identifies her three children as Jane, Adam and possibly Henry.

[Abbreviated Sources] are provided at the conclusion of each person’s information, which necessitates checking the Source Abbreviation list at the beginning of Volume 1.

Some family sketches begin in the 1600s!

In cases of common surnames such as Williams, the families are sorted by counties of residence, which is extremely helpful.

As we know, tracing enslaved ancestors in pre-Civil War records can be extremely challenging. With challenges of few mentions in government records and the many burned counties in the South, tracing free African Americans in that time period can be just as difficult.

If your family tree includes long lines of free African American family members who lived in North Carolina, South Carolina and/or Virginia, Paul Heinegg’s books might be the exact resource you need to extend your ancestral line another generation or two.

Mr. Heinegg has spent over 40 years researching and compiling data found in colonial and county records and manuscripts and has provided the genealogy world with an excellent resource. This was a mammoth undertaking!

These three books contain over 1600 (!) pages of family information. The set is a bit pricey, but if you have identified free African Americans from before the Civil War who lived in North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia in your family tree, this is an invaluable resource.

Free African American of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina From the Colonial Period to About 1820, Sixth Edition is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company for $140.00 per set.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.