Family Tree Friday: A few slave manifests still survive.

Since February is Black History Month, it seems appropriate to mention some of the lesser-known records that are available for African American research at the National Archives.  Among those are vessel manifests that document the antebellum domestic slave trade.  Even though Congress outlawed the slave trade in 1807, the law of course did not prohibit the continued right to own or transport slaves from state to state.  Vessel captains transporting slaves from the Upper to the Lower South had to provide U.S. Customs agents with manifests of their “cargo” at the ports of departure and arrival.  What is extremely useful about these records is that they identified the slaves by name and provided a personal description–few other federal records before the Civil War included such important information.  The forms also provided the name and residence of the owner, making it possible to link specific slaves to families that show up on other federal records, such as the U.S. census.

Currently, the only records available online are the inward and outbound slave manifests for New Orleans, which have been digitized by from microfilm publication M1895.  Slave manifests for a few other southern ports, including Charleston (ARC ID 2767346), Savannah (ARC ID 1151775), and Mobile (ARC ID 2554808), are available at NARA’s Southeast Regional Archives in Morrow, Georgia.

3 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: A few slave manifests still survive.

  1. I have a grand-niece who is African-American and asked that I find family history. Her family last name is Bolar, from Alabama. The great-grandfather name is George Douglas Bolar. Can you provide recommendations for slave records? –Thank you, Jim

    1. Hi Jim,

      African American genealogy is difficult to research prior to 1865 when slavery still existed. Most records about slaves, such as the 1850 and 1860 slave population schedules, which were taken in addition to the general population census schedules, do not identify slaves by name. If you happen to know the name of the slave owner, you can search the schedules that way, but the slaves are only listed by gender and age, not by name. Freedmen Bureau records for Alabama might be a better option to search; they will more likely include records that idenify former slaves by name. These records are all on microfilm, and there are several publications that relate specifically to Alabama, including M1900, Records of the Field Offices for the State of Alabama; and M803, Records of the Education Division of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Good luck!

      – John

  2. Hi Jim,
    I did a quick search of the census for George Bolar and there is not one in AL. There are George Bolar’s in 1880 in PA and four othe ones with different middle intials. I searched just for the name Bolar in AL. all years. in 1870 there are just two Bolars one namee Eleven 23 Male Black AL in MARENGO PO SHILOH and another WILLIAM 34 Male Black AL AL MARENGO SHILOH P O. ELeven is listed as farmer. In 1880 Eleven had moved to MO. In 1880 there is just one Bolar in AL a little 5 yrs girl named Jane and it states that she was adopted by a Mary Laer 54 yrs old. She only shows up once in the census.
    BOLAR JANE 5 Female Black AL AL CONECUH MILL 1880.
    Many libraries have the census available to search in the library ask around.
    Lastly Never Give Up!
    Check out this website.

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