Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The African American 1865 Census of Huntsville and Athens Alabama

A Census & Bounty Registry of Huntsville and Athens Alabama

Many African American researchers are hoping that there will another record that will provide a glimpse of ancestors once enslaved. Most African Americans find their ancestors in the 1870 census listed as free people at long last, and with their full names. For too many researchers, the work reaches a brick wall, simply because nothing more is known. Who was the last slave holder, and where else can one look to find their names? Occasionally that rare document arises, and it should be shared.

Some time ago,in the AfriGeneas daily lunchtime chat, Selma Stewart mentioned a special census record that she had come across. The group discussion was focused on Alabama and Tennessee and how many of the African American families in north Alabama have ties to other families from Giles County Tennessee.

Ms. Stewart who happens to be president of the Hampton Roads AAHGS  joined the conversation. She mentioned the 1865 Negro Census of two northern Alabama Communities. This was incredible--an 1865 census! This was the very year that thousands of families were finally freed-officially freed! And here was a census conducted at that very time!

I decided to explore this record to see what kind of data was collected. What a surprise  Not only were the names of the former slaves listed, but the names of the last known slave holder was captured on the record as well!!! This kind of information is so essential and most often missing! With this one piece of data-the last slave holder, more data on the family can be found!

Top of the 1865 Negro Census of Huntsville & Athens Alabama
Source: Volume: RG 105, Alabama Reel 19 - Records of the field offices for the state of Alabama, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872 - Huntsville and Athens (Claims Agent) Census of Black Citizens and Register of Bounty Claims Received and Forwarded Volume (79 ½) 1865 and June-July 1868 

When examining the record it was fascinating to see the variety of occupations of the population. Some were basic laborers but others were skilled workers from blacksmiths to seamstresses, moulderers and other interesting occupations.  The record provides an interesting glimpse into life right after the Civil war.

Close up view of the occupations column  in the 1865 Colored Census of Huntsville & Athens AL

The resource for records such as these all come from National Archives Record Group 105, in which one will find the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedman's Bureau. 

The years immediately after the war brought such dramatic change, movement, and sometimes chaos in the lives of newly freed people. It is understood that these records vary from state to state, however, one should look at such records even if there are not family ties to that state. In some cases, the records reflect the lives of persons before they relocated to another community. In other state records, such as this one, a rare post slavery era census and a pre-1870 census view is found that reflects critical history of formerly enslaved people. Therefore, a record such as the 1865 Colored Census provides essential data for Alabama and Tennessee researchers.

Special thanks to Selma Stewart for sharing this valuable data.  


Judi Carroll-Thompson said...

I've used the 1866 AL Census of Lawrence County and found a number of family member. Didn't see where they listed slave owners. It would have been great if they had. Guess it various depending on the county.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

And keep in mind the census that you viewed was a state record. This record was found among Freedman's Bureau records, and was thus a Federal record. Items recorded were different.

Anonymous said...

I have the 1866 colored census of Madison County Alabama but my relative is not on there.He is on the 1867 voter registration for Madison County so I figure he had not got to Madison County yet.I think he came from Lawrence County Alabama and was a slave on JS Napiers plantation since his name was John Napier.In 11870 he was on Henry Turners plantation over in Madison County.