Skip to main content

Introduction to Genealogy: Areas of Special Interest

Are you ever curious about your family history? Genealogy is a fascinating topic but it can be hard to know where to start. This brief guide will explain basic steps to get you started tracing your family history.

African American Genealogy

The Federal Census has been taken in the United States every ten years since 1790 and is a most valuable resource.  All African Americans were named in the census starting with 1870.  Before then, census takers recorded names of Free Blacks and of any Blacks who died during the census years of 1850 and 1860.  Some valuable records to use in place of earlier census are the mortality schedules, probate records, deeds, court and church records.

One special resource for African American research is the Freedman Records.  The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company was incorporated in 1865 by act of Congress as a banking system for ex-slaves.  It failed in 1874, but by that time much valuable information had been recorded and this was preserved by the National Archives. These records often provide information not easily found elsewhere.

There are military records in the National Archives and many of the states' archives of African Americans who served in all wars of the United States since the Colonial Wars.  Over 170,000 African Americans served in the armies during the Civil War.

Resources on microfilm

  • Federal Census records 1790-1930 (ask at the desk for a list of states and years)
  • Slave schedules for Alabama (1850 & 1860)
  • Other census schedules, both Federal and state
  • Freedmen Records--Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands 1865-1870 (23)
  • Freedmen Records --Register of Signatures, Branches of Freedmen's Savings & Trust, Huntsville 1865-1874 (1)
  • Freedmen Records--Index, Deposition Ledgers, Freedman's Savings & Trust, Huntsville, Little Rock, & D. C. (1)
  • Freedmen Records--Superintendent of Education, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands, 1865-1874 (1)
  • Freedmen Records--Superintendent Of Education, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870 (8)
  • World War I Draft registration cards for Alabama
  • Compiled service records of Alabama Confederate and Union soldiers
  • Compiled service records of Tennessee Confederate soldiers (incomplete collection)
  • Compiled Service Records of U.S. Colored Troops, 12th-21st infantry, 34th-43rd infantry, 44th-52nd infantry (3)
  • Alabama Confederate Pension Application Files
  • Port of New Orleans (Inward Bound) Slave Manifests, 1807-1860 (12)
  • Port of New Orleans (Outward Bound) Slave Manifests, 1812-1860 (12)

Native American Genealogy

At the time of the European settlement in what is now Alabama, the land was inhabited primarily by four tribal groups, the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw and the Creek.  Some of these peoples were removed to the West in the 1830's, but many stayed and some were eventually absorbed into the general population.

Records of Native Americans have been kept by the tribal councils and by the Federal Government.  The people who remained in the East, outside reservations, are found in the records of the general population, in most cases not listed as Indian.

The Special Collections Department materials focuses on the four Alabama tribal groups with emphasis on the Cherokee in northern parts of Georgia and Alabama and the Choctaw and Chickasaw in Alabama and Mississippi.


Many of the records relating to the Cherokee from removal through the early 1900's are included in collections of microfilm from the National Archives.  The film of the Letter-books from the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee, though not indexed, provides a wealth of information including emigration rolls for 1817-1836 and lists of Cherokees who died or were wounded in service to the United States at war against the Creeks.  Removal census and property valuations are in our collection on film and in print.  Film of the Miller and Dawes Enrollments provide family information of Cherokees who registered with the Federal Government at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Cherokee councils are located in Talequah, OK and Cherokee, NC.

Chickasaws and Choctaws

Similar records exist for the Chickasaws and Choctaws as for the Cherokees.  Census were taken before removal and after the people arrived in Oklahoma in the 1830's.  Later tribal census were taken in Mississippi as well as Oklahoma.  The Choctaws maintain an official presence in Mississippi and Alabama.

The Chickasaws and Choctaws were included in the Dawes enrollment as were the Creeks and Seminoles.  The Heritage Room has indexes for these tribes, but not a full run of their applications.

Choctaw councils are located in Durant, OK and Philadelphia, MS.  The Chickasaw council is in Ada, OK.

Numerous records are available in print and through the internet.  An excellent survey of Native American Family History research is found in The Source:  a Guidebook of American Genealogy (Revised Edition) in Chapter 14, “Tracking Native American Family History” by Curt B. Witcher and George J. Nixon.