Spend Juneteenth reclaiming your family history with these free resources

To capture the spirit of family reunification here are some of the best (and free) genealogical resources found online.  

By Robin Caldwell
Fresh & Fried Hard

West Virginia Black family history is everywhere. Why not use  the long Juneteenth weekend to find it and research your family history? 

Freedom and family embody the very essence of Juneteenth. Genealogist Angelis Robinson-Smith says, “Immediately after emancipation, many of our formerly enslaved kin used their newfound freedom to seek out family members who’d been sold or moved to other locations.” To capture the spirit of family reunification, BBG, with the assistance of Robinson-Smith, has curated some of the best (and free) genealogical resources found online.    

In this photo from the West Virginia State Archives, a group of young African-Americans dance at canteen on Chapline Street in Wheeling in 1947. Names include Thelma Savage, Georgia Cox, Roxanna Jackson, John Kent, Kenneth Parker, Roy Neal, Elaine Shannon, and Corine Martin.

Be sure to keep a notebook nearby to jot down questions you may have about your family as you explore. 

Robinson-Smith says, “Your public library” may offer genealogical services right on their websites. Ancestry.com has a public library version that can be accessed on your library’s site. She adds, “Even if your library doesn’t have Ancestry available, there are many libraries that offer digital library cards and services to non-residents.” 

Other resources include free access to African American and West Virginia collections and records available at FamilySearch.org. If you suspect an ancestor held tribal membership in the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes, then the National Archives has digitized The Dawes Rolls. And you can find the U.S. Census from 1790 to 1950 on their site. West Virginia was Virginia, so search Virginia records from 1790 to 1860. 

Robinson-Smith has one important suggestion. “Keep it fun and simple as you search. Use this as a start to reclaim your family’s story and search for your kin.” 

With a little effort, you can uncover the rich history of your West Virginia family by using these resources that can help you potentially track their movement. So what are you waiting for? Start your journey today!

Has a public library version that can be accessed on your library’s site. 


National Archives 

West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture & History
Research Finding Aids and Databases

African American Genealogy — West Virginia

List of West Virginia Plantations

Southern Appalachian Digital Collections,
African American Oral Histories

Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau
An interactive state-by-state guide to locating Freedmen’s Bureau offices and documents

Freedom on the Move
A database of fugitives from American slavery

Last Seen: Finding Family after Slavery
A repository of newspaper ads by the formerly
enslaved seeking family members

freshandfriedhard.com is a tribute to Black women and the power found in our kitchens. We will #citeblackwomen and honor history and empower Black women

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