The collection, which represents the 19th and early 20th centuries, features more than 55 million black family history records that collectively dispel the common misconception that very few historical records were kept for African-Americans and that tracing African-American ancestry is virtually impossible.
"The power and depth of this collection speaks directly to the misperceptions of black family research, offering hope that transcends time and inspires every generation," said Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of The Generations Network, parent company of Ancestry.com. "One of our youngest customers, 15-year-old Jari Honora from New Orleans, has traced his Creole family tree to 1801, and many others are finding that tracing their family trees is possible."
Ancestry.com's newly expanded African-American Historical Records Collection contains U.S. Colored Troops service records of those who served in the Civil War and Freedmen's Bureau records as well as a myriad of other African-American specific resources such as photos, slave narratives from 3,500 former slaves, and the soon-to-be-added Southern Claims Commission records.
The collection also includes 53 million African-American records in the complete U.S. Federal Census Collection (1790 - 1930), which is now searchable with a new, special filter that identifies African-American entries, regardless of their description in the census such as "colored," "Negro," "black," "mulatto" or other variations. The 1870 census is a major milestone in black family history as the first census enumeration to list formerly enslaved African-Americans by name.
A cross-section of the collection also reveals several black icons such as Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes and Louis Armstrong, as well as the ancestral legacies of James Earl Jones and Denzel Washington. Other celebrity highlights include --
* Jada Pinkett-Smith: Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, wife of actor Will Smith, descends from a line of African-Americans free before the Civil War. Her great-great-grandfather Daniel Pinkett was just a young boy when he was recorded in the 1860 census. At that time, free blacks were the only African-Americans noted in the census. After the Civil War, in 1870, the 13-year-old could not read or write and had not attended school during the previous year. Ten years later in 1880, not only could 23-year-old Daniel read and write, he was a school teacher.
* Maya Angelou: According to the 1930 census, the poet's 18-year-old mother, Vivian Johnson, was a widow with two young children -- two-year-old Maya (who is listed by her birth name, Marguerite Johnson) and three-year-old son Bailey. The young family is living in St. Louis, Mo., with Vivian's parents; Vivian's mother's name is Marguerite.
* Frederick Douglass: In January 1871, the famed abolitionist's Freedman's Savings Bank account at the Washington, D.C. branch, received a $1,500 deposit. Douglass' bank record was signed by his son Lewis, suggesting that Douglass was not present at the time of the deposit. Douglass served as President of the Freedman's Savings Bank during Post-Civil War Reconstruction.
* Duke Ellington: A 19-year-old Duke Ellington listed his occupation as messenger for the U.S. government on the World War I draft registration card he filled out in 1918. His place of employment was Chief of Staff, War Department, Washington, D.C.
"Thirty years ago, Alex Haley's Roots ignited fervor for black family history that swept the entire nation, and yet tracing African-American ancestry remains a challenging adventure," said Tony Burroughs, African- American family historian and author of "Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree" (Simon & Schuster, 2001). "Ancestry.com's expansive collection is a major breakthrough that opens the gateway for African-Americans everywhere to dig deeper into the lives of their ancestors via the Internet. Though black family history still presents a unique set of challenges, this collection is major stepping stone that makes African-American genealogy resources more accessible and illuminates the legacies of past generations for us to celebrate today."
This month, individuals can search the African-American Historical Records Collection and receive free access to Ancestry.com for three days. To explore the African-American Historical Records Collection, visit http://www.ancestry.com/aahistory.