To trace your African-American family's history, write down everything you know about your family history. Search through materials that are available to you, or ask a family member for help. Look through genealogical records to get information on your family history, and search wills and plantation records from slave owners who have one of the same surnames as your family.

  1. Gather the information you know

    Look for things like birth and death certificates, diaries, photographs and employment records that give you more information about your relatives. It may also be helpful to talk to older family members who know some of your family history. Write down the information gathered.

  2. Research your family from 1860

    1860 is the first year blacks were listed by name by the U.S. Census Bureau. Research genealogical records using this information. Military records, voter records and records for Social Security and school from 1860 and later can help you in your search.

  3. Identify slave owners

    The U.S. Population Schedules of 1860 can help to determine if any of your ancestors were slaves before the Civil War. Some slaves took the surname of their owners after the Emancipation Proclamation, and this information can help you find your ancestors as well. Searching for slave owners that have the same last name as members of your family can also help you trace your family history. Wills and plantation records may help you find the names of slave owners.