Genealogist Answers Your Questions

Q: I've been researching my African-American family history for 6 years and keep coming to a complete stop at the year 1870. Except for my great-great-grandfather, I have no names beyond that, what can I possibly do to find more. Rumor has it, he always told a story of himself being sold on the road when he was a boy. -- Shirleen Bridges, Franklin, Va.

A: One of the best places to look for your ancestor directly following the Civil War is in the Freedman's Bank Records, which is a list of depositors from the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company. This was a bank set up between 1865 and 1874 for newly freed slaves. To open an account, the depositor listed their address and the names of family members. This collection is available on and is easy to use.

Another valuable resource on Ancestry is the collection the "Slave Narratives." This is a collection of remembrances from thousands of slaves.

You can also use the card catalog in the upper right-hand of the "Search" page and type in keywords to find other collections on Ancestry. Try words like "slave," "freemen," "emancipation," or "slavery."

Each will bring up lists of different books and databases in the Ancestry historical collection and may give you some of the background you are searching for to learn more about your ancestor's experience.

Local records can also be a useful source, as they were in Robin's case, so try searching the Family History Library Catalog (especially by the names of the counties where your family resided) for records that can be ordered and searched at your closest Family History Center.

You can find more ideas in the African American Records learning center at RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees, and may wish to consult some books, such as "Black Roots" by Tony Burroughs.

Q: I think me and my wife have Indian in our families. I have traced back as far as I can with no luck. How can I find out? -- Larry Greenwood, Spiro, Okla.

A: The first step in tracing Native American heritage is to learn to which tribe your ancestors belonged. Often families have oral traditions about tribal nationality, and while the traditions may not be accurate, they are a starting point.

Check the 1900 U.S. Federal Census to see if your ancestors are listed as "Indian." If they are, additional information pertaining to their tribal affiliation is included in the census. Since the census tells you where your ancestors were living at the time, you can then explore that locality more fully.

You can find more Native American research suggestions and links to Native American sources at RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees.

Q: I'd like to find my roots in Germany? How do I go about doing that? On both my maternal and paternal sides. Thank you. -- D.L. Jones, Viroqua, Wisc.

A: Because there was no central repository for German records and most records were kept on a local level, locating a precise ancestral town is critical for German research. First, talk to relatives. What do they know about where your ancestors came from? What records, pictures, mementos, etc. do they have linking your family to Germany? Even a clue can help narrow down the search.

Also search U.S. records to build the bridge over to Germany. Census, vital records, church records, newspapers, and naturalization records are a few of the resources available -- many of which are available at your fingertips on

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