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African American Genealogy at the Texas State Library and Archives


This guide highlights resources for African American genealogy research at TSLAC. The sections on this page are arranged in reverse chronological order. Starting with more recent records is generally most helpful for researching records of formerly enslaved individuals. Other materials that can help with your family history research are described on our Genealogy Resources webpage.

Group portrait of two women seated with hats in lap and a man standing between them, 1905. Tina Q. Odim photograph collection, 2015/109-7. Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Group portrait of two women seated with hats in lap and a man standing between them, 1905. Tina Q. Odim photograph collection, 2015/109-7. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

A note about terminology: Some TSLAC library and archival holdings may contain language, imagery, attitudes, and/or perspectives from the past that may be offensive today. TSLAC does not endorse the language, imagery, attitudes, and/or perspectives presented in the content but provides it as a historical document.

Late 19th - Early 20th Century Records

In 1887, the 20th Legislature created the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths of the State of Texas. In 1930, black orphans began to be admitted to the newly designated Deaf, Dumb and Blind Asylum for Colored Youths and Colored Orphans. Three more name changes followed: in 1943, to the State School for Deaf and Blind Negro Children; in 1947, to the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphan School; and in 1965, to the Texas Blind and Deaf School (finally placed under the Texas Education Agency). With desegregation in 1966, black students were merged with white students in the Texas School for the Blind and the Texas School for the Deaf, respectively.

Annual reports of the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths of the State of Texas "" list names of residents up until about 1920. Additional registers from 1925-1965 are part of our Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Colored Youths of the State of Texas records "".

Scholastic census records list individual students and may include information about the individual’s parents, school district, address, birth date, age, sex, and any physical disabilities. Email ref@tsl.texas.gov for more information about working with these records.

Capitol Building Commission records "" include payroll lists or vouchers that can show names of workers, department or location, month and year of employment, occupation, time worked, wage, signature, and more. Many of those who worked on the construction of the State Capitol building were African American. The information from these records has been abstracted onto 3 x 5-inch index cards, available on Ancestry in the collection "Texas, Capitol Building Payroll, 1882-1888." Each card shows the person's name, occupation, and year of employment. Cards are arranged alphabetically by surname. Free access to Ancestry.com Texas is available to Texas residents.

Reconstruction and Civil War Era Records

After the Civil War, former enslaved persons had the possibility of exercising new rights, including suffrage, education, banking, and land ownership. African Americans may have served in the State Police or Legislature, entered prison or an eleemosynary institution.

Fifty-two African American men served Texas as either state legislative members or Constitutional Convention delegates during the last half of the 19th century. See our online exhibit Forever Free: Nineteenth Century African-American Legislators and Constitutional Convention Delegates of Texas.

The Voter Registration of 1867 was the first time African Americans who had been enslaved were listed with their full names (as a broad population) by the state of Texas, though this was limited to males of voting age. The register entry may include name, place of residence, precinct, length of residence (in state, in county, in precinct), native country or state, and naturalization. African American voters are indicated in the remarks column as "colored" or "col."

TSLAC has military rolls for the State Police and State Guard, described in the online finding aid Reconstruction military rolls "". To find military service records for individuals in Texas (1836-1935), search the Adjutant General service records database.  Please note, these service records are not exhaustive and may not include all individuals who served.

Adjutant General’s Department Reconstruction records "" include records of murders and assaults of African American citizens in Texas during Reconstruction. These records have been digitized and are part of the Texas Digital Archive ""

Adjutant General's Civil War records "" include two reports of slave labor impressed by the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, 1863 and 1865. 

Many Civil War era records created after the war document the activities of African Americans during that time. For example, our staff have identified 20 Confederate pension applications belonging to African Americans.

Pre-Civil War Records

Free Persons of Color

The Texas Constitution of 1836 and later acts of the Congress of the Republic of Texas placed restrictions on free persons of color "" in Texas, documented by:

  • Memorials and petitions were submitted to the Texas Congress or Legislature by individuals or groups seeking help through legislative action. Exemptions allowing specific individuals to reside in Texas had to be requested. The records can include descriptive information about the person, where they lived, their reputation in the community, and names of people who knew them. These records are available online from Ancestry in the database “Texas, Memorials and Petitions, 1834-1929”. Free access to Ancestry.com Texas is available to Texas residents.
  • General and special laws document statutes resulting from memorials and petitions. The published laws are organized by legislative session and provide the text of all bills, joint resolutions, and concurrent resolutions passed into law, including acts allowing individual free persons of color to remain in Texas. H.P.N. Gammel's The Laws of Texas "" are available online through the Portal to Texas History.

You may want to search the collection by name or broaden your search to the phrases “free person of color” or “free persons of color.” You can also browse the Analytical Index to the Laws of Texas "" for keywords such as “Africans, Free.”

Enslaved Persons

Deed and probate records. Any sale, bequest, or other transfer of enslaved persons would have been recorded as property at the county level. Visit our County Records on Microfilm webpage and check to see if the county you are researching is listed. If you locate any reels of interest, contact your local library about borrowing the reels through interlibrary loan (ILL). 

Many of these reels have been digitized by FamilySearch. You can search for collections on the FamilySearch catalog"" Search by county name using the “Place” field, and filter results by “Availability” to include only those available online. 

Some of the digital records are available to access online with a FamilySearch account. Other records must be accessed through a Family History Center or FamilySearch Affiliate Library "". Our Austin and Liberty locations are both FamilySearch affiliate libraries. 

County tax rolls. Enslaved persons were taxed as property. TSLAC has Texas County Tax Rolls on microfilm from the early years for many counties. FamilySearch has digitized many early tax records in the collection Texas, County Tax Rolls, 1837-1910 ""

State records. TSLAC holds some records documenting the sale and transport of some enslaved persons within the state in our Texas Comptroller's Office ad valorem tax volumes "". For example, Volume 304-2354, a register of tax sales, documents the sale of property by tax assessor collectors for back taxes due the state. The entries mostly document the sale of land, but there are references to the sale of enslaved persons. 

Our Treasury Department Customs House records "" include one slave manifest. In addition, enslaved persons may be documented on passenger manifests.

The Texas Supreme Court Case Files Custom Search is an index to digitized Supreme Court case files "" available in the Texas Digital Archive. Search options include parties, cause of action, case number, year filed, county of origin, court jurisdiction, and names of district court judge and attorneys representing the parties. One of the search terms for cause of action is “Slaves”.

Publications. The 19-volume publication No Land, Only Slaves by Edith Smith explores primary sources and records from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas which may be helpful for your research. We suggest you pursue the following options for access:

  • Digital copy online. FamilySearch has a copy of No Land, Only Slaves "" digitized and available online. Access to this publication is available with a free FamilySearch account. 
  • Interlibrary Loan. Contact your local library about borrowing volumes or requesting pages, including tables of contents or indexes, through ILL. Our holdings "" include volumes 4,7,9,10, and 11 only. 
  • Contact libraries with holdings. WorldCat "" lists available copies of this publication. 
Manuscripts and Photographs

Collections of private individuals and businesses supplement the official records of the state. See our list of Processed Manuscripts and Photograph Collections for more information.
Manuscripts may include: 
•    Letters
•    Diaries
•    Family bibles
•    Birth and death information
•    Business records
•    School and employment information
•    Ephemera
•    Printed materials
•    Announcements
•    Invitations
•    Cards
•    Photographs
Several manuscript collections include information about enslaved persons. As you research, make note of all the names of individuals associated with your ancestor. For example, the Milford Norton papers includes a letter mentioning sale of named enslaved persons dated June 5, 1855. Norton was the attorney for a prominent slaveholder.

We also hold the Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar papers "" which include slave conveyances and the Andrew Jackson Houston collection which includes documentation of the capture of a “Negro” woman by Indians.

The Tina Q. Odim photograph collection "" includes seven studio portraits of African American men and women dating about 1880-1890s, 1905, and undated. These images include portraits taken by Frank E. Beach of Lampasas, Texas, and the Star Gallery in Burnet, Texas. The majority of the images are albumen cabinet card studio portraits of unidentified individuals. These images have been digitized and are part of the Texas Digital Archive ""

The Prints and Photographs Collection at TSLAC research guide includes information about finding prints and photographs within the State Archives collections. The page points to indexes and other resources describing photographs that may not be digitized. The People’s Business College collection, which shows activities of the Austin, Texas, school serving African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, is one collection found using these resources.

Other Resources

Our agency does not maintain the records below, but they can be useful for continuing your African American genealogy research.

1850 and 1860 United States Federal Censuses (Slave Schedules)

Some years of the census include information about enslaved individuals. The first census, taken in 1790, listed the total number of enslaved persons attached to a household. From 1800 through 1840, the numbers of enslaved persons attached to a household were also listed with an owner, but the number was subdivided into separate categories of sex and age. For example, the schedules may show five enslaved persons attached to a household, one might have been male, aged 24 and under 26, one female, aged 10 and under 24, and three males under the age of 10. It was not until 1870 when all black individuals were listed by their own names on a federal census.
In 1850 and 1860, the Bureau of the Census gathered separate statistics about enslaved individuals. Known as the “slave schedules,” generally the only names listed were those of the owners. Enslaved persons were individually described under the categories of age, sex, and color; rarely are their names provided. The schedules are useful as circumstantial evidence that an enslaved person of a certain age and sex was the legal property of a particular owner, in a particular location.   
Slave schedules are available in online databases such as FamilySearch and Ancestry. See the FamilySearch United States Census Slave Schedules wiki "" for links to these online collections. Access is also available through HeritageQuest Online. Check with your local public or academic library about remote access to HeritageQuest Online through the TexShare Databases.

United States Freedmen’s Bureau Records

The Freedmen's Bureau operated in Texas from late September 1865 until July 1870 and aided formerly enslaved persons and impoverished whites. The Bureau provided a variety of services, including provision of employment and supervision of labor contracts.

Search over 1.7 million pages of indexed and transcribed Freedmen's Bureau records using the Freedmen's Bureau Search Portal "", hosted by the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) ""

Field Offices provided direct assistance to and had direct contact with freed people and impoverished individuals. FamilySearch has an online collection at Texas, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office records, 1865-1870 "".

Several digitized collections of the Freedmen’s Bureau are described more on FamilySearch’s African American Freedmen's Bureau Records wiki ""

For more information on the Freedmen’s Bureau records, visit the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) research guide, African American Records: Freedmen's Bureau "".

Freedman’s Bank Records

Among the most underused bodies of federal records useful for African American genealogical research are the records of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, often referred to by genealogists as the Freedman’s Bank. Chartered by Congress in early 1865 for the benefit of formerly enslaved persons, the surviving records relating to the bank and its collapse are a rich source of documentation about the African American family. In an effort to protect the interests of depositors and their heirs in the event of a depositor's death, the branches collected a substantial amount of detailed information about each depositor and their family. The data found in the files provide researchers with a rare opportunity to document Black families for the period immediately following the Civil War. Visit NARA’s website for more information in the article “The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical Research” "".

The FamilySearch collection “United States, Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874” "" includes a name index and images of registers for 67,000 people who opened accounts in the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company.

Ship Manifests ("slave manifests")

The same law that banned the foreign “slave trade” in 1807 also established the regulation of transporting enslaved persons, requiring vessel commanders carrying human cargo in coastal waters to provide manifests when leaving (“outward”) or entering (“inward”) a port.

New Orleans was a major terminus for the movement of enslaved individuals into Texas. Ports of departure or intended arrival stretched from Baltimore, Maryland to Texas ports on the Gulf of Mexico, including: Galveston, Indianola, Matagorda, Lavaca, and others.
There are two collections of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) “slave manifest” records available through Ancestry.com and Ancestry Library Edition.com: 

  • U.S., Southeast Coastwise Inward and Outward Slave Manifests, 1790-1860
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., Slave Manifests, 1807-1860

The manifests might include:

  • Date of manifest
  • Name of ship
  • Captain
  • Port of departure
  • Port of destination
  • List of enslaved persons on board
  • Dates of certification by the collector of customs

The information about enslaved persons might include:

  • First name
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Stature
  • Name of shipper/slaveholder
  • Shipper/slaveholder’s place of residence

Ancestry.com is a paid subscription. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available for on-site access in the Reference Reading Room. Contact your local library to inquire about available access options.

Slaveholder Personal Business Records (“Plantation records”)

Some slaveholders maintained personal business records pertaining to agricultural landholdings worked by enslaved labor to generate profit (e.g. “plantations”). In some cases, these records include documentation of enslaved individuals. These types of records can appear in the personal papers of a specific slaveholding individual rather than under the name of a specific “plantation”. The Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin has identified select archival collections "" of personal papers that may contain “plantation” related records. Please contact this institution directly for more information.

Military and Vital Records

Search African American military, birth, marriage, cohabitation, death, census, and Freedman's Bank records through ProQuest African American Heritage, available on-site at TSLAC. Check with your local public or academic remote access to this online resource through the TexShare Databases

Helpful Guides

Lost Friends Database "".Lost Friends notices were advertisements published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper seeking information about family and friends who were separated by slavery. Ads running between November 1879 and December 1900 are digitized and available to search online.

A variety of helpful resources and search strategies are described in the following articles:

Two TSLAC Out of the Stacks blog posts feature collections and resources that may be of interest: 

Related Materials
Page last modified: January 26, 2023