African American Genealogy Resources

African American Genealogy Research

Useful resources for researching Black families, businesses, and individuals from the Ohio Valley Region.

Books in the Filson’s general library collection

  • The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia [976.9003 S648]
  • Life Behind a Veil: Blacks in Louisville 1865-1930 [976.9911 W949l]
  • Proceedings of the United Brothers of Friendship and Sisters of the Mysterious Ten, 1888, 1890 and 1895 [Rare Pamphlet 366.05 U58p, 1888]
    • These pamphlets contain the names of dozens of men and women from all over Kentucky who were members of these Black fraternal and sororal organizations.
  • Weeden’s History of the Colored People of Louisville [976.9911 W394]
    • Contains biographical information about prominent Black figures in Louisville, their occupations, and their businesses.

Family Bible Collection

John A. Lyons Collection

  • The Filson holds a collection of Catholic parish records, transcriptions, and family files compiled by Father John Aloysius Lyons, a priest who researched Catholic Church history in Kentucky, specifically Bullitt, Casey, Hardin, Jefferson, Marion, Meade, Nelson, and Washington counties. His files on families and individuals primarily involve research on the earliest settlers in Kentucky. Many of the files include baptisms, marriages, and deaths of free and enslaved Black people.
  • Click here for a list of families in the collection.
  • Use the Library Catalog to search by author for Lyons’ volumes of transcribed church records.
  • For a complete list of the collection’s church and cemetery records, broken up by county, see the article “Notes and Documents: The John A. Lyons Collection” in the Filson Club History Quarterly, vol. 64, no. 1 (1990), available in the Filson’s library and online.

Lemons Database

  • A large database on enslaved and free Black people and their enslavers in Kentucky, compiled by independent researcher Charles Lemons. The database is accessible from the Filson’s library computers.
  • Reckoning, Inc., includes some limited access to the Lemons database focusing on Jefferson County, Kentucky, on its website, including a brief guide to the collection here.

The Filson’s manuscript collection contains a vast amount of underexplored unpublished material. If you are looking for documents concerning specific Black individuals, families, organizations, or related subjects, you can search the online Manuscript Database.

The following are some records that include lists of Black individuals:

  • Carty Wells Document
    • Extract of the will of Carty Wells, describing the division of Wells’s property upon his death, including land in Shelby County and enslaved people.
  • Edmonson County Civil War Pension Records, 1880-1920
    • Includes 3 pension applicants from former members of United States Colored Units.
  • First Baptist Church of Fisherville Scrapbook, 1977
    • Contains rosters of church members, divided by gender, in 1855, including a list of “colored members.” These individuals were apparently enslaved, since each name is followed by the phrase “belonging to.”
  • Forks of Otter Creek Baptist Church (Meade County, Ky.) Ledger, 1827-1904
    • The ledger is indexed for names of members, some of whom are identified as Black.
  • Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Papers, 1911-1946
    • Includes member lists from St. Luke Lodge (1919-1924 and 1933-1936) and the Households of Ruth (1931-1938), as well as doctor’s notes for lodge members (1915-1942) and funeral/life info about members “Archie Cary” (1923) and “Robert Nurse.”
  • Green County, Kentucky Primary School Attendance Records, 1910-1914
    • Two attendance record books from a Black primary school in Green County, Kentucky. Include daily attendance for grades 1-8 and the names, ages and genders of students.
  • Jewish Hospital Records, 1905-2008
    • Records include information about Black employees, patients, and physicians at the old and new Jewish Hospital. Hill-Burton application materials and administrative reports from 1965-1968 provide data regarding the racial background of obstetrical and other hospital patients.
  • John Richard Spiers Scrapbook, 1887-1904
    • Contains correspondence concerning the establishment of the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) Charles Sumner Post No. 61 for Black veterans in Lexington in 1886-1887. Includes a list of the approximately 170 charter members.
  • John W. (John William) McTighe Papers, 1845-2005
    • Contains membership lists and histories for Louisville clubs and organizations, including several Black organizations.
  • Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Louisville, Ky.) Records, 1837-1901
    • This volume containing minutes of official meetings of the 4th Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Louisville. It also includes minutes, dated 1843, of meetings of an affiliated Black congregation, the 4th Street African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • Plymouth Congregational Church (Louisville, Ky.) Records, ca. 1916-1977
    • Consists of records of Plymouth Congregational Church, founded in 1877 in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Plymouth Settlement House, which opened in 1917 as an extension of the church’s mission. The church and settlement house were located next to each other in the Russell neighborhood at the corner of Seventeenth and West Chestnut streets. The church’s membership was primarily made up of middle- and upper-class Black families, and the settlement house provided social services to neighborhood residents. Includes board minutes, correspondence, annual reports, and publications.
    • Parts of this collection have been digitized, including the ledger of baptisms, marriages, confirmation and communion classes, and deaths. Explore the digital collection here.
  • Simon Bolivar Buckner Papers, 1825-1994 (bulk: 1825-1950)
    • Names 11 Black laborers employed at Buckner’s Muhlenberg County iron furnace.
  • William Allen Bush Medical Record Books, 1919-1921
    • Documents Dr. Bush’s care of wounded and/or disabled World War I veterans. A patient record book, dated 1919-1921, includes unit, rank, nature of wound or disability, age, race, occupation, and marital status.

Eastern Cemetery (Louisville, Ky.) Records, 1840-1950

  • When Eastern Cemetery was first established in 1844, there were three acres allotted for enslaved and free Black people (two acres for public burials and one acre for lots: the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd African sections). Other segregated lots were created as the cemetery expanded.
  • The Filson has all surviving Eastern Cemetery records on microfilm. These records list internments, public burials, lot purchases, and maps.
  • The Filson has three volumes of the Eastern Cemetery records published by the Louisville Genealogical Society. These volumes list the name, plot number, and date of burial for each person. The Eastern Cemetery records are shelved in the Jefferson County section of the library (976.991 L888e).
  • A PDF index of Eastern Cemetery internments for 1913-1950 as compiled from Book No. 100 is available online here.
  • There is also an index to the microfilm for Eastern, Shardein, and Greenwood Cemeteries. See index below:
    • Roll 1:
      • Eastern Cemetery Burials: 1845-1873
      • Eastern Cemetery White Burials: 1856-1880
      • Eastern Cemetery White Public: 1865-1913
      • Eastern Cemetery Internments: 1893-1902
    • Roll 2:
      • Eastern Cemetery Receipt Books: 1881-1950
      • Eastern Cemetery White Public Section and Ranges, 1876-1940
    • Roll 3:
      • Eastern Cemetery Black/African American internments, 1849-1885
      • Eastern Cemetery Colored Lots, Section B
      • Eastern Cemetery Map Book, Lot Owners, Misc. Records
      • Greenwood Cemetery Burials, 1903-1926
    • Roll 4: Eastern Cemetery Lot Cards Section A & B
    • Roll 5: Eastern Cemetery Lot Cards Section B (includes Black/African American Burials)
    • Roll 6: Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards, A-G, 1840-1900
    • Roll 7: Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards, H-O, 1840-1900
    • Roll 8: Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards, P-V, 1840-1900
    • Roll 9:
      • Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards, W-Z, 1840-1900
      • Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards A-E, 1900-1949
    • Roll 10: Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards F-M, 1900-1949
    • Roll 11: Eastern Cemetery Burial Index Cards N-Z, 1900-1949
    • Roll 12: Shardein Cemetery Burial Index Cards A-Z, 18??-19??
    • Roll 13: Greenwood Cemetery Burial Index Cards A-Z, 1931-1949

Western Cemetery (Louisville, Ky.) Records

  • Western Cemetery records are in a database available on the patron computers.

Greenwood Cemetery (Louisville, Ky.) Records, 1898-1949

  • The Filson has all surviving records for Greenwood Cemetery, a Black cemetery in Louisville, on microfilm. These records list internments, public burials, and lot purchases
  • See above microfilm index.

Green Hill Cemetery (Frankfort, Ky.) Research collection, 1911-1977

  • The Green Hill Cemetery served as the principal burial place for the Black community of Franklin County starting in 1865.
  • The Kentucky Historical Society’s research collection on Green Hill includes copies of death certificates, newspaper obituaries, and names from the Vital Statistics Death Index. The collection is arranged alphabetically by last name. Also included is an index of the collection completed by the African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky. Find out more about the collection here.

Camp Nelson (Nicholasville, Ky.) Records of deaths and internments, 1864-1865

  • Camp Nelson was a fortified base and supply depot for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. It became a recruitment and training center for Black soldiers and a refugee camp for their wives and children. Many enslaved people also escaped to Camp Nelson in the hopes of securing their freedom.
  • The website Access Genealogy has compiled a list of deaths and internments at Camp Nelson. Records of soldiers provide the decedent’s name, rank, unit, cause and date of death, and burial location. Access the list here.

Cedar Height Cemetery (Paris, Ky.) Resources 

  • Lindrell Blackwell of Bourbon County has identified hundreds of Black people buried in Cedar Height Cemetery. For more information, contact the African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky. See the resource listed at the bottom of this webpage.

The Indianapolis Freeman, 1886-1916

  • The Freeman was a Black weekly newspaper that covered educational, social, political and religious events in Louisville and elsewhere in Kentucky.
  • The Filson has issues of The Freeman from 1886-1916 on microfilm. The Freeman has also been digitized by Google News Archives.

St. Paul Western Appeal, 1885-1853

  • The Western Appeal was a weekly Black newspaper published in St. Paul, Minnesota, by John Q. Adams, son of Louisville Baptist pastor Henry Adams. Because of Adams’s ties to Louisville, the paper devoted a social column to Louisville’s Black community. The Louisville column is usually featured on the front page with a subheading similar to “Facts and Fancies Found in the Beautiful Falls City: A Record of the Happening Among the Colored Residents of the Metropolis of Kentucky – Louisville.”
  • The Filson has issues of the St. Paul Western Appeal from 1885-1888 on microfilm. Issues from 1889-1923 are also accessible and searchable online through the Library of Congress.

The Louisville Leader, 1917-1950

  • The Louisville Leader reported world, national, and local news and addressed the social, legal, and political concerns of Black Americans across Kentucky.
  • The University of Louisville Archives has digitized issues of The Louisville Leader from 1917-1950. See a description of the resource here.

Other Black newspapers available on microfilm at the Filson

  • New Orleans Gazette and Commercial Advertiser, 1805-1816, 1819, 1820
  • Natchez Advertiser (Natchez, Miss.), 1832-1833
  • Mississippi Messenger (Natchez, Miss.), 1805-1808
  • Mississippi State Gazette (Natchez, Miss.), 1818-1819

Black Newspapers available through LFPL

  • The Louisville Free Public Library features a searchable database of its historical Black Newspaper Collection. Louisville residents can access the database using their library card information and login.
    • Go to
    • On the left sidebar, click “Research Tools”
    • Click “Newspapers,” and on the resulting list find “Historic Black Newspapers”
    • Log in with your library user information and search the collection
  • Papers available through the Black Newspaper Collection include:
    • Atlanta Daily World, 1931-2010
    • The Baltimore Afro-American, 1893-2010
    • Chicago Defender, 1909-2010
    • Cleveland Call and Post, 1934-2010
    • Los Angeles Sentinel, 1934-2010
    • Louisville Defender, 1951-2010
    • Michigan Chronicle, 1939-2010

Also see the African American newspapers available at the University of Kentucky here.

City of Louisville Records

  • Louisville Death Register, 1866-1910

    • Microfilm and indexed, also on
    • “Race” is included in each individual’s information
  • Louisville Birth Register, 1898-1910

    • Microfilm and indexed
    • “Race” is included in each individual’s information
  • Records of the City Court, Order Books, 1836-1897 (aka Police Court)

    • Microfilm—many indexed
    • Court proceedings after arrests
    • Free and enslaved Black people are identified as such
    • Includes names of Black people accused of any crime, including helping people who escaped slavery
  • City Directories, 1832-present

    • Filson library and
    • Until 1865, Black residents are identified as “free colored” or “FWC”/”FMC” (Free Woman/Man of Color)
    • After 1865 to 1930, Black residents identified by italicized “c”

Jefferson County Records 

  • Tax Records, 1789-1865

    • Microfilm, alphabetical by tax district
    • Include free Blacks and their property and free Blacks who paid poll taxes
      • In some counties, the records are integrated. You’ll usually find “(Col.)” beside the names of Black taxpayers. Researchers should also check under the letter “F”—many formerly enslaved people who did not adopt surnames may be listed as “Free Joe,” “Free Jim,” etc.
      • County tax lists AFTER freedom are segregated—”Colored Lists” almost always follow the white lists.
    • Include enslavers and the number of people they enslaved over the age of 16
      • During the antebellum era, enslaved people were considered taxable property. These annual county-level records fill in the gaps before and between the Federal Slave Owners Censuses of 1850 and 1860.
  • Wills, 1780-1865

    • Include wills made by free Blacks AND wills made by enslavers
      • 1780-1784: County Order and Minute Book A (Microfilm and book abstracts)
      • 1784-1846: Abstracted in book form in the Filson’s library [976.991 J45w]
      • 1784-1833: Vol. 6 of the Filson Club History Quarterly
      • 1784-1901: Microfilm, including an index that goes from 1784-1919
  • Estate Inventory and Settlement Books, 1780-1783, 1800-1900

    • Inventory of the deceased’s estate, including furniture, farming equipment, and sometimes enslaved people (with names/ages/relationships)
      • 1780-1783: County Court Order Book A (Microfilm and book)
      • 1800-1900: Microfiche (index on microfiche and
  • Marriages, 1784-1915

    • Marriage Licenses and Bonds (for free Blacks pre-Civil War)
      • Marriages, including marriage of free Black people, from 1784-1853 (transcribed and indexed in the Filson’s library collection, 976.991 J45m vol. 1-5)
      • Black brides and grooms are identified as “Free persons of color”
    • County Marriage Registers (for enslaved/formerly enslaved Blacks)
      • Marriages of enslaved people were not recorded before 1865, but after 1865 many desired a legal record of their marriages
      • They recorded even long-standing marriages in Book 1-C [976.991 B674], often listing the number of years already married
      • After 1865, marriage records were segregated, but some were still recorded in white registers (Microfilm)
  • County Court Order and Minute Books, 1780-1901

    • Microfilmed, indexed
    • Deeds of emancipation (“free papers”)
    • Records of indentures and apprenticeships
    • Guardian bonds
    • Cases of Black people brought to court for migrating to Kentucky
  • Bond and Power of Attorney Books (Jefferson County Court Records)

    • Slave sales, cases where enslaved people were used as security for debt
      • 1783-1805: Microfilm and transcribed in Jefferson County, Kentucky Records, vol. 3 by Michael L. Cook (976.991 C771)
  • Chancery and Circuit Court Records, 1790-1885

    • Microfilm—actual case files are in Kentucky State Archives in Frankfort
    • Civil cases involving payment of debts, settlement of estates, etc.
    • Free and enslaved Black people are often included as plaintiffs and defendants—this is a good resource for information about enslaving families

State and Federal Resources

  • U.S. Census 1810-1950

    • Available through, which is accessible through the Filson’s library computers
    • 1790-1800: Censuses destroyed, but tax lists survive (list heads of taxed households)
    • 1810-1860: Free Blacks are enumerated
    • 1850 and 1860 Kentucky Slave Censuses: List names of enslavers and age/gender of enslaved people (microfilm and
  • U.S. Mortality Census for Kentucky, 1850-1880

    • Microfilm, arranged by county; printed index available for 1850 and 1860
    • All the deaths during the last 12 months of the census year
    • States free/enslaved, age, marital status, cause of death
  • Kentucky Vital Statistics

    • Records are scattered and incomplete for counties
    • Births, deaths, marriages—many births of free and enslaved Blacks recorded
    • Vital Statistics 1852-1910 (scattered years – see book 016.9769 in the library for list): Microfilm, not indexed
    • Birth Records 1911-1988: Index only, microfiche or computer
    • Death Records 1911-1995: Index, microfiche or computer
    • Death Certificates 1911-1961: Microfilm
    • See birth and death records for Louisville listed under “City of Louisville Resources”
  • County Tax Records

    • Microfilm, arranged by county
    • Free Blacks who owned property are listed
    • Enslavers and the number of people they enslaved over 16 are listed
  • American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission Records, 1863-1864

    • Microfilm and Ancestry
    • Include a few interviews published in John Blassingame’s Slave Testimony, which reported on conditions among enslaved and free Black people, soldiers, and enslavers. Many people, including Washington Spradling, were interviewed in Louisville.
  • Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, vol. 2

    • List of Black men from Kentucky who served in the U.S. Colored Troops [973.7469 L752, Appendix p. 1-178]
  • Adams County Records

    • Slave Auctions 1827-1830
    • List of sales of enslaved people 1833 (Microfilm)
  • Delayed Birth Certificate Records for Kentucky

    • Birth certificates were not required before 1911, at which point Kentuckians without official records filed delayed birth certificates with the state
    • The KyArchives Project has made lists of thousands of delayed birth certificates filed in Kentucky, which include the individual’s name, age, date of birth, place of birth, sex, race, parents’ names, and the names of two witnesses
    • Explore the resource here

The Freedman’s Bureau was established in 1865 to help formerly enslaved people navigate life after slavery.

  • Compiled records are available through, which you can access for free without an account in the Filson’s library reading room.
  • These records are some of the only resources that can help trace ancestors prior to 1870—this was the first time many people were listed by name in any official document.

Some of the most important resources in these records include:

  • Labor contracts
    • Include information about who owned the land, who was leasing the land, how much they were being paid, etc.
  • Lists
    • Include the names, ages, and other identifying information of people receiving aid or rations
  • Letters
    • Because of high rates of illiteracy, people came to the bureau to have them write letters on their behalf to handle labor disputes, marriage proposals, attempts to locate family members, etc.
  • Marriage documents
    • Include the names of the bride and groom, the number of years the couple was living together before their marriage was legally recognized, the location of marriage, etc.

Virginia Historical Society’s “Unknown No Longer”

  • A searchable database of enslaved ancestors

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database

  • Contains information on almost 36,000 slaving voyages and identifies 91,491 Africans taken from captured slave ships or from African trading sites. Includes the African name, age, gender, origin, country, and places of embarkation and disembarkation of each individual.

African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky (AAGGKY)

  • Members of AAGGKY can access several resources, including videos and guides.
  • The website also include lists of specific data for Bourbon, Boyle, and Franklin counties
    • After logging in, on the the top menu hover over “Resources,” find “Digging Deeper,” then click “County by County Data”

Liberian immigrant database  

  • Searchable database of emigrants to Liberia from 1820-1843. Data lists name, age, state, boat, date of arrival, etc.

National Park Service Soldier and Sailors Database

  • Searchable database of Union and Confederate armies in the Civil War, including Black units (with brief histories of each U.S. Colored Troops unit)

Natchez Mississippi Slave Certificates (1858-1861)

  • A transcription of the vital statistics of enslaved people brought from Kentucky and other states to Mississippi before the Civil War. The data was pulled from a record book discovered in the Adams County courthouse containing “Certificates of Slaves.”
  • The record lists the name (sometimes including surname), physical description, age, and state and county of origin of every enslaved person taken to Natchez during this period. Most of the people listed were from Kentucky, mostly from Jefferson, Fayette, and Shelby counties.
  • A searchable database is available online here 

Appalachian African American Church Collection

  • A developing collection of digital photos, audio, and video recordings concerning Black Appalachian churches and faith experiences. The project will culminate in an online database and interactive map of Black churches in central Appalachia.
  • The collection is available through Appalshop, a media arts and education center in Whitesburg, Kentucky

Kentucky U.S. Colored Troops Project

  • The National Archives holds a set of ledger books created to keep track of Black men who joined the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) from Kentucky. There are roughly 11,000 soldiers listed in these ledgers, 9,000 of whom had been enslaved.
  • The data is searchable through The Reckoning, Inc., website here.

Negro Leagues Database

  • has put together a database on the Negro Leagues, Black professional baseball leagues that operated during segregation. The site includes data on the two teams that operated in Louisville: the Louisville White Sox in the 1910s and the Louisville Black Caps in the 1930s. The site includes a wealth of information, including player names, personal information, games stats, and some photos.