Category Archives: African-American Research

African American History Month – Connecting with Families Before the Civil War

February is African-American History Month. Once a week for the next four weeks, I will post estate inventories found in late 1864 and early 1865 in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Perhaps descendants who have been able to trace ancestors back to Bourbon County in 1870 are now at a brick wall, unable to find those family members before the Civil War.

I happened to be looking for a will for a collateral line of my husband’s in Bourbon County in 1863. I noticed that many of the wills in that time period – the middle of the Civil War – included enslaved people.

I was curious about when Southern estates stopped considering human beings as chattel. First, I don’t know if this is true of other counties, but in Bourbon County, most of the probate records in the first half of 1865 are estate inventories with very few wills recorded.

In earlier court volumes – 1857-1863, the reverse was true. More wills appeared than inventories of estate administrations. I also noticed that there were huge lists of notes due to estates by lots of men. I think by the end of the war, Confederate supporters had little cash and, if it wasn’t in Union dollars, it wasn’t worth much anyway.

Inventories tended to be very long – two or three pages in the court records – and amounted to as much as $14,000, with no enslaved people listed as part of the estate. The result of inflation, I think!

To answer my own question, in Bourbon County, Kentucky, I found two estate inventories dated January 1865 that mentioned the hiring out or value of enslaved persons, who are named in the lists.

Today’s document is part of the inventory of John K. Spears, filed 3 January 1865 by Jacob Spears, administrator. However, John K(erfoot?) Spears died a decade before, c1854, in Bourbon County, aged only about 42 years old, leaving a widow, Emily (Morin), and a houseful of little children.

In 1850, his estate value was listed as $14,200.

John R. (transcription error) Spears, 37, born KY
Emily, 24, born KY
Margaret, 12, born KY
Sophia, 11, born KY
Solomon, 8, born KY
Joseph, 6, born KY
Noah, 2, born KY
Emily, 1/12, born KY

Jacob Spears, likely his brother, administrator, filed an update with the Bourbon County Court on 3 January 1865. This inventory is solely a list of money earned by the estate through hiring out of slaves.

An Inventory of the Estate of Jno. K. Spears decd
made by his admr Jacob Spears, 3 January 1865
1863 Dec 25 To hire of negro man Martin to Hutchinson
for the year 1863  $150.00
Hire of negro man Henry for 1863 $100.00
”               ”            ”      Frank to Hannah $80.00
”               ”            ”      Phil to Edwards $85.00

Hire negro woman Lucy to Ammerman $40.00
”                         ”              Levina to Bishop   $35.00
”                         ”             Chat? to Campbell  $30.00
(Land sale)
1864 Dec 25 hire Martin to Davis   $200.00
”                        ”       Henry to self $150.00
”                        ”       Frank to Edwards $100.00
”                        ”       Laura to Stivers $40.00
”                        ”       Chat?        $10.00
”                        ”       Lucy           $10.00
(Land rent)

Given under my hand this 3rd Jany 1865.
Jacob Spears

It appears that the estate of John K(erfoot?) Spears included Martin, Henry, Frank, Phil, Lucy, Levina, Chat? and Lucy.

Unfortunately, no ages are provided in the inventory, nor is it evident if any of these people were related to each other. However, I hope some descendant is able to add information to their family tree.

Be aware that when I searched for Spear/Spears in the Ancestry 1860 census slave schedules, no hits came up. Yet, when I manually searched the pages, I found this. Ancestry’s census search engine seems to get worse by the day and is almost useless to me. :

Emily Spears, bottom left & Jno Spears Heirs, top right
Source: Ancestry

More work would need to be done investigating further filings by John Spears’ administrator, since Emily Spears has twelve enslaved persons while the heirs have thirteen. Eight of thirteen are named here and more detailed information about all of the enslaved people might be found in Bourbon County court or tax records.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: 5 African-American Genealogy Resources

As we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , I’d like to share  five fabulous websites for African-American genealogical research. Each has a wealth of information and links and all are free.

1. Black Past – The home page has a list of links to other resources.

2. Legacy Family Tree – 7 Resources for African-American Genealogy Research

3. International African-American Museum – Check out the Center for Family History tab on the home page

4. FamilySearch – African American Genealogy Records

5. Library of Congress – African-American Genealogy Resources

African-American Genealogy Resources

As a retired teacher, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the segue into February’s Black History Month. I know February is still a couple of weeks away, but old habits die hard!

Here are some links that are either devoted to, or include, genealogical resources for researching African-American roots. I’ve also added links to African-American blogs with current posts (as in 2017) below the website list:

Access Genealogy

African American Cemeteries Online

African American Gateway on Allen County Public Library

African-American Life in St. Louis 1804-1865 from the Records of St. Louis’ Courts

African Roots Podcast


Ancestry Wiki


Black Servicemen Revolutionary War Records

Boston Public Library Anti-Slavery Manuscript Collection

Christine’s Genealogy Website

Civil War Slave Compensation Claims in Compiled Military Service Records of U.S. Colored Troops

Conversations with My Ancestors  – Mavis Jones’s blog

Cyndi’s List

Digital Library on American Slavery

Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD

Family Search

Free People of Color in Louisiana

Freedmen’s Bank Records, 1865-1874

IAAM Center for Family History

Illinois State Archives Servitude and Emancipation Records 1722-1863 – Reference list of print and microfilm resources

Library of Congress American Memory

Library of VirginiaBe sure to browse this site thoroughly. Lots of new resources all the time for all things Virginia!
African American Church Histories in Virginia
African American Civil War Research
African American Newspapers

Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau

Missouri State ArchivesBe sure to browse this site thoroughly, too. Lots of digital material.

National Archives

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

National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database

New England Historic Genealogical Society – African American Resources

New Orleans Public Library – list of resources, but no live links

New York Public Library Digital Gallery

North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisements

PBS – website on how to research African American roots

Philadelphia African-American Census 1847

Slave Genealogy

Slave Name Roll Project – Schalene Dagutis’s blog site, Tangled Roots and Trees, includes a link to slaves whose names have been “released” as genealogists have come across their names in documents. The roll is an on-going project and includes links to many U.S. counties. Many of the names are found in wills or deeds.

Slaves and the Courts 1740-1860

Tennessee State Library and Archives

Texas Slavery Project

The African-Native American Genealogy Home Page

The Freedmen’s Bureau

The Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery

The Geography of Slavery in Virginia

The Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture

United States Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops, 1863-1865

University of North Carolina Digital Library on American Slavery

University of Virginia American Slave Narratives

Virginia – African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009

Here are some African-American family history blogs, all with posts in 2017:

Between the Gate Posts – LindaRe’s blog

Black and Red Journal – Terry Ligon’s blog

Caddo Trees – blog about families from Caddo Parish, Louisiana

Claiming Kin – blog

Eastern Shore’s Africans, Melungeons and Native Americans – blog

Finding Josephine – Dionne Ford’s blog

Into the LIGHT – Renate Yarborough Sanders’ blog

Mariah’s Zepher – Ms. Vicky’s blog

My Genealogical Journey – Minkyadoo’s blog

Notes to Myself – True Lewis’s blog

Our Black Ancestry

Please leave a comment if you know of other free sites or current blogs that aren’t listed so they can be added.