I think this is the first time I’ve ever had two GeneaGems posted two days in a row, but this find, for African-Americans with Virginia roots, at least in certain counties, is a gold mine.
First, as we learned in U.S. history classes, at the end of the Civil War, a number of bills, policies and laws were passed that affected only the southern states. Some of these laws were enacted to document family relationships among former slaves and some of the paperwork from that era survives today.
The Library of Virginia has some, but not all, of two sets of these registers. The first is the Census of Children of Ceased Cohabitation. These registers documented the names and ages of former child slaves, but included so much more.
African-American family historians today often struggle to find ancestral family members. Having the name of the former slave owner helps.
Now, take a look at a sample page from the register of Buckingham County, Virginia. Buckingham is a severely burned county, so the fact that this register survived is doubly meaningful. The pages have been transcribed and are digitized as typed pages. Yes, that increased the chance of a typographical error, but the resource is still fabulous!
Part of Page 2, Buckingham County, Virginia
This register contains the name and age of the child, place of birth, place of residence, name of last owner, residence of last owner, residence and age of the father, father’s last owner, residence of last owner, name and age of mother, residence of mother, mother’s last owner, residence of last owner and signature of the father.
This example from Buckingham County shows that these people weren’t too far from their pre-war homes. Some of the other county registers paint vastly different pictures, like this one from Prince Edward County:
Prince Edward County Register, Page 1
The categories of information are the same in each of these registers, but in Prince Edward County, there are children living anywhere from Missouri to Liberia. Former owners are in multiple counties and, in some cases, like those of the Berkeley children, their current places of residence were unknown.
The Library of Virginia currently has registers digitized for the following counties: Buckingham, Culpepper, Floyd, Fluvanna, Prince Edward, Richmond, Roanoke and Wythe. Not all county registers survived. If your county of interest isn’t mentioned here, you might contact the library to see if there are other registers yet to be transcribed and scanned or if this is it.
There is another category of register, which is given several different names, but all of which basically document marriages or cohabitation of newly freed people.
The Goochland County Register of Colored Persons Cohabiting, 1866 is more like a traditional directory or perhaps a marriage register with limited information. However, there are frequent remarks made about previous spouses and some children.
Lastly, we have the Hanover County marriage register, which is also particularly valuable in its details because this register lists marriages which took place long before the Civil War. A post-war bill that was passed legalized these marriages.
Hanover County Marriage Register
Details in this register include the date and county where the marriage took place, the names of the groom and bride and their ages, husband’s and wife’s condition (single, widow, etc.) at marriage, places of birth for each, residences of each, names of their parents and husband’s occupation.
The FamilySearch wiki also has county links to the Virginia cohabitation registers.
The registers for these adult cohabitations and marriages are not necessarily in the same surviving counties where the children’s registers are, but the LVA and FamilySearch wiki links have descriptions of what is located where.
It takes a bit of digging to find these records and it appears that at least some of these types of registers have survived in other southern states. Entering “cohabitation register” perhaps with the year 1865 or 1866 and the name of the state should help you uncover information about which registers have survived, where they are located and whether or not they have been digitized.