Slave Schedules

Finding information about enslaved ancestors
can be particularly challenging. Learning how to use the census slave schedules is one tool that can help. Slaves were enumerated on all federal censuses
from 1790 through 1860, but NOT by name. The 1790, 1800, and 1810 population schedules
indicate only the total number of slaves while the 1820, 1830, and 1840 censuses record slaves
by sex and age range. For 1850 and 1860, there were separate slave schedules. These schedules
list the name of the owner and the sex, age, and color (black or mulatto) for each slave. To research enslaved ancestors, first look for your ancestor in the 1870 census, the first census after the Civil War in which newly freed people were listed by name. After locating an ancestor, proceed backwards to the 1860 slave schedule. Look for any slaveholders in that county with the same surname as the ancestor. Although recently emancipated slaves may have moved to another county or even to another state and could have chosen a different surname from the slaveholder, many stayed where they were
and often took the surname of their former owner. Once you identify slaveholders with the same surname, look for a male or female slave who
is about 10 years younger in 1860 than the ancestor identified on the 1870 census schedule. If the ancestor was born prior to 1850, repeat the process for the 1850 slave schedule. You will be looking for a person who is about 20 years younger in 1850 than in 1870. Be sure to expand your search to include other members of the ancestor’s family that are
listed on the 1870 census. Because slave information is PRIMARILY available
from the former owners’ records, you will need to learn as much as possible about the
owner and family, including spouse and in-laws, children and whom each married. One could
acquire slaves through purchase, inheritance, marriage, and natural “increase” (the children,
grandchildren, etc., of enslaved adults). Search all types of official records (such
as deeds, wills, estates, court minutes) for the slaveholder and family. Also hunt for other documents such as the family’s personal papers, including journals, account books, letters and Bible records, which may be in libraries or archives. Newspapers and church records might also provide clues. Researching enslaved ancestors is not easy
to do but be sure to make use of all types of records, including census slave schedules. Contact us at the Government and Heritage Library if you have questions. Thank you.

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