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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 23

African American Family Research

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 1:59 PM by Jenny Levins

African American family history research begins with the information the family already has. Usually there is one member of the family who knows most of the family history. The first step is to interview that person and record what they know. The next step is to locate any family documents such as a family bible, marriage certificates, military discharge papers, old tax and deed records, birth certificates, letters, and any other papers that might provide details on your ancestors. Most people can fill out the blanks in their family tree back to their grandparents just from what is available in the family. Once you have exhausted what family resources you have you can then begin searching for what you don’t know such as the name of your great-grandparents. 

County marriage, birth, and death records are official records that can help fill in the blanks on your family tree. The three primary sources for family research in Iredell County is the Local History Department at the Iredell County Public Library, the Iredell County Register of Deeds, and the Genealogical Society of Iredell County. The library has 2,098 family files on different families in Iredell County. These files contain obituaries, family histories, newspaper clippings, and various documents collected by the staff on each family. In addition the library has a large collection of family genealogy books and biographies on different families and individuals. Obituaries, wedding announcements, and birth announcements can be found on the library’s collection of newspapers on microfilm going back to 1858. The library has 2,850 reels of microfilm containing county records such as marriage, death, birth, deed, tax, will, estate, Church, and court records. 

Federal census records are available for research from 1790 to 1940. You can see the names of who was in a family along with their ages, sex, race, birthplace, occupation, and location through census records. African Americans face a challenge though as most of their ancestors are listed only back to the 1870 census. In the 1860 census most African Americans were slaves and not named on census records. There are Slave Census Schedules for 1850 and 1860, but these only name the slave owners along with the number of slaves they owned with the sex and age of each slave. Researchers often look at the 1870 census for their ancestors then count back to the 1860 and 1850 slave census to try and identify their ancestors by their location, sex, and age. The U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules for 1850 and 1860 list slaves along with their sex, age, color, and cause of death. 

So where else can you look for information once you have reached the 1870 cutoff? Iredell County is fortunate in that many of the early county records have been transcribed, indexed, and published in books which the library has available for researchers. Family Bibles and Family Records from the Files of the Genealogical Society of Iredell County and Other Sources by Irene Clanton Black lists slaves mentioned in family bibles on pages 223-224.
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When the war ended in 1865 the county courts in N.C. legally recognized slaves who had been living together as man and wife through the recording of Cohabitation Bonds. Iredell County Marriage Records (1851-1885) by Geraldine McLain, Edith Walker, and Richard Stewart lists the Cohabitation Bonds starting on page 22 and Black Marriage Records on page 175. The Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions: Iredell County, N.C. 1789-1800 by Shirley Coulter, Edie Purdy, and Lois Schneider contains a listing of “Negro Slaves” mentioned in court records on pages 190-191. The court volume covering 1815-1850 lists “Negro Slaves” on pages 374-375 while the 1851-1868 volume lists “Negro Slaves” and “Negroes” on pages 211-212. Abstracts of Unrecorded Wills, 1788-1915 and Will Book III, 1845-1868 of Iredell County, N.C. by Lois M. Schneider has a “Slave Index” on pages 110-115. Abstracts of Will Books I, IA, and II of Iredell County, N.C. by Schneider has a “Slave Index” on pages 157-162. 

Iredell County records begin in 1788 when Iredell was formed as a county by the State Legislature out of Rowan County. Iredell County, N.C. Deed Abstracts A & B: 1788-1797 by Russell C. Black, Jr. lists “Negro Slaves” mentioned in the deed records in the index on page 97. 
Mr. Black continues the series of abstracts of Iredell County deeds through 13 more volumes. The slaves mentioned in the deeds are indexed out under “Negro Slaves” in the back of each volume. The Iredell County, N.C. Earliest Extant Tax Lists: 1800, 1815, 1837 by Jo White Linn contains the names of slaves in association with two wills on pages 53 and 87. The tax lists gives the number of slaves owned by each tax payer, but does not provide their names. 

Slave transactions were often recorded at the deeds office. The Iredell County Register of Deeds has an online database of the slave records in their collection available online at www.co.iredell.nc.us/567/Historical-Information. The records were organized by the Register of Deeds office and R.C. Black, Jr. and are listed by Date, Grantor (Seller), Grantee (Buyer/Receiver), Name (Slaves’ name and age), Consideration (Price), and Book/Page (where the transaction was recorded.) Iredell County Slave Records 1823-1872 is a reel of microfilm at the library containing information on Iredell County slaves collected by the State Archives of N.C. The records start with a bill of sale of a slave dated 1824 and continues with “Civil Actions Concerning Slave (s) 1856, 1857, 1860, 1861, 1863, 1864, 1867, 1870,” and other records. 

The Genealogical Society of Iredell County office is located on the bottom level at the library in Statesville. Their office hours are from 10 am to 2 pm on Tuesdays and Thursday. The Society has a large collection of files and documents on Iredell County families including information on the Black community and slaves in Iredell County. Mildred Miller and Irene C. Black wrote a series of articles in the Society’s journal Tracks providing the names of slaves and free African Americans who were members of various Iredell County churches such as Fourth Creek, Concord, and Bethany Presbyterian and Methodist Episcopal Church South. Bound copies of Tracks and a special notebook titled, Iredell County African-American Genealogical Information: A Collection of Articles is located in the library’s local history room. 


Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Iredell Library has resources for tracing family roots” on March 9, 2018