Using the African American Families Database

The following tutorial explains how the African American Families Database (AAFD) can be used for historical research. An accompanying PDF file is available here. The “steps” listed below refer back to that document.

Getting Started

First, create a free account using the sign up page, by clicking here.

Next, use the search fields. At any time you can use these fields WITHOUT accessing the hypothesis/factoid boxes. Note the “find similar names” button. That’s useful when you have a name that can be spelled many different ways. The Source Tables will be updated as time allows and new material is ready.

Conducting Research

We’ll use an enslaved person named Mariah, owned by the James B. Rogers, to illustrate how the database can be used.

Step 1: Pull up the first record associated with Mariah: the J B Rogers Slave List .

Step 2: Click on “show” button next to the James B Rogers estate. This brings up Mariah’s record.

Click on the plus sign next to Mariah’s first name. This will give you the option to “add a factoid.” Each “fact” must be associated with a person, so here I add a “Mariah.”

Step 3-4: Each fact is associated with an “Hypothesis.” You don’t have to worry about the terminology. If you don’t find “fact” and “hypothesis” useful, please suggest other terms. The real goal here is to create a two-tiered hierarchy for storing information. Below you can see that I’ve created a hypothesis to locate information that I think pertains to Mariah in the post-bellum era.

When you add people and facts to the black boxes they are displayed in brief with the name, age, and approximate date of birth. If you click on the magnifying glass you can see the entire record. Note: if you click on the “owner” in Record #53512 you will see everyone listed in his slave list.

Step 5: Next we search for Mariah’s in the 1870 Census (notice the checked source table on the left). We get 52 results.

Step 6: We sort the Mariah’s by Birth year and narrow in one women who fit the profile from the Slave List (born in 1817). I decided to add the four Mariahs born between 1810 and 1819 as “facts” in my “Mariah-post-bellum” hypothesis.

Once you save the four women to your hypothesis, you will get a black box that looks like this:

Step 7: Remember: if you click on the magnifying glass or the underlined sections in the search results, you will pull up more information. Here I’ve pulled up the “dwelling 1718” to see who was living with the Mariah born in 1810.

Step 8: I could have done this step earlier, but now I realize I want to compare the household members for each Mariah in 1870 to the enslaved individuals who lived with her on the James B Rogers Estate. So I create a new “hypothesis” which contains everyone on the JBR Slave List. Note the hierarchy: this is an hypothesis which is tied to person “Mariah” and I added a new hypothesis titled “J B Rogers Estate.” You pick the names for the people and hypotheses.

Note – if you select one person from the JBR list, say “Lucy” you will then be presented with the option to “add all” to the hypothesis – a fast way to include everyone enslaved on the plantation.

Note – don’t forget that you can move the black boxes around, expanding and minimizing them. And you can always click on the magnifying glasses. The goal here is to make it easier to compare records. Below I have my four possible “Mariahs” in the 1870 census. I’ve clicked on “Mariah Jennins” (the record is seen in white behind the black boxes). That enables me to see her household which includes Bernard and Hannah. Then I clicked on my “JB Rogers Estate” hypothesis to view the individuals itemized on his estate. Now I can easily compare the Bernard and Hannah on the Slave List to the Bernard and Hannah who live with Mariah Jennins in 1870.

Step 9: You can always search for new people. You don’t have to stick with your original “person.’ So here I search for “Perkins” because I saw him in Mariah’s household in 1870. Notice: in the 1880 census you can click on the household number and then scroll to see the “Neighbors.”

 I add Perkins to my “Mariah-post-bellum” hypothesis since the census record suggests that he was her husband in this household.

Step 10: If you followed the steps outlined in the accompanying document your “Mariah-post-bellum” hypothesis would be populated with the following individuals from the 1870 & 1880 census, as well as the JBR Slave List. This is part of the power of the database and the “shopping carts” – the ability to organize large amounts of data in one place (remembering that with each person you can click on the magnifying glass and you will get the complete record and associated individuals).

Step 11: You can continue searching for Mariah but you can also begin to add information about people in her household, such as Perkins. Here I pulled up information from the Property Tax records that pertain to Perkins in the postbellum period. These records have the added utility of demonstrating the variations in the Ivins/Jennins/Evans last name(s).

There are dozens and dozens of ways to organize this data. The above steps are not meant to limit you to organizing data in this way, but rather to introduce you to some of the bells and whistles in the database. You could create a dozen hypotheses to “find” Mariah or you could only create 1 and add all of the facts to that one black box. Please experiement!