Family Tree Friday: Slave Schedules

If you’ve been watching the new NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are?, you may have seen a recent episode where slavery in America was discussed. Researchers with slave ancestors often have trouble because there just aren’t a lot of federal records which list slaves by name.

One type of federal record that researchers often use to trace their slave ancestors are the U.S. slave schedules. Taken in 1850 and 1860 with the regular population schedules, primarily in the slave states, the slave schedules list slave owners by name, with a statistical count of their slaves. Slaves are not enumerated by name, except in rare instances. The slave schedules can still be useful for research, however, as many slaves took their former owners’ names when they were emancipated. Because of the limitations inherent in these records, they should be used in conjunction with other sources which do list names – for example, later census records and county level records such as wills and probate records.

Here we see an 1860 Monroe County, Alabama slave schedule. William Peary has three slaves – a thirty-five year old female, a nine year old female, and a three year old male. Because the slave schedule doesn’t provide their names, we can’t tell if they are related. But as I mentioned above, if you use this with other records, you may be able to find more information and prove that they are related.

1860 Monroe Co AL slave edited

The slave schedules are organized by state and county. They are available on microfilm and online at

For more information on Who Do You Think You Are?, check out the official NBC website and our companion webpage.

2 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: Slave Schedules

  1. I have been a member of ancesty for several months and has yet to find anything about my ancestors. I recently joined a site called and they seem to be no help either. My family is of Black decendent from North Carolina and South Carolina. I know up to my 4th generation and than im stuck…slavery is where i get stuck…help

    1. Hi Rose,

      You don’t mention what you’ve been able to find so far, but it sounds like you are having trouble locating records from when your ancestors were slaves. This is a common problem when researching African American ancestors. Since federal records didn’t typically list slaves by name, it can be difficult to use our records to trace your family. You may want to try more local sources, such as the state archives for both North Carolina and South Carolina. You may also need to go to the county courthouse level, to see if they have anything.

      Our website also has some tips for researching African American genealogy.

      Good luck!

      – Katherine

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