Paul Heinegg has done it again.
He’d already spent decades of his life compiling information about free African Americans during the colonial era in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
He mined some of the most challenging record sets in genealogy—scant and hard-to-read court records, tax records, fragments of colonial census records, and other early documents.
He rightfully won The American Society of Genealogists’ Donald Lines Jacobus Award and the North Carolina Society Award of Excellence in Publishing.
He not only published these volumes in print, but published much of the content online at www.freeafricanamerians.com so that everyone might have access to the valuable data he uncovered.
Now he’s updated his colossal work and published a 2nd edition of Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware. The new volume is nearly 60% larger than the original work. He’s also published a 6th edition of Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. This work is in three volumes.
Heinegg didn’t transcribe the sources; he took on the infinitely more difficult task of analyzing the information and compiling the data into multi-generational family lines. He carefully sourced each statement, and when he wasn’t 100% sure of a connection, he let us know that as well.
As a longtime genealogist, Heinegg’s work astounds me. It’s hard enough to do that for one family, let alone hundreds, with all their spelling variations and same-names across generations.
As someone with deep roots in the eastern US, I wasn’t surprised to find more than one of my own families in his work. For my North Carolina Locklear family, Heinegg provided critical information about this lineage, and revealed that many of its progenitors had origins in colonial Virginia.
Like many of the other families Heinegg reconstructed, his work uncovers the extent to which free black families often descended from:
“…mixed race children who were themselves the progeny of white women and African American slaves or free blacks.”
These new volumes, like their predecessors, each contain a detailed Introduction that describes the unique history of free blacks in each location. These include the laws each colony and later state passed, giving us precious context.
Richly indexed by surname and given name, the author provides an accounting of the exact numbers of free black persons he finds, and connects each person to their (mostly) mixed-race origins. Fittingly, historian Ira Berlin, who devoted his own life’s work to slavery and free black research, writes the Forward for each volume.
Here’s a short interview with Heinegg online at genealogical.com, which provides more background about how this work began. You can also find a list of the surnames of the families covered in the Maryland and Delaware volume at this link.
A list of the surnames found in the North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina volumes can be found at this link.
A Valuable Endeavor
Heinegg has added and expanded what already should have taken much more than one person’s lifetime. His dogged focus on an this under-researched population of Americans is groundbreaking in more ways than one.
I suspect that his work will prove indispensable to genealogists, historians, social scientists, legal scholars, archeologists, and others engaged in the tough work of excavating this history. There will be many generations of researchers who will owe a debt of gratitude to Heinegg.
Please encourage your local library, archives, genealogical or historical society to contact the publisher (genealogical.com) to ensure that these updated volumes are on their shelves. We need to be able to access all of his work.
In fact, if your research includes free families from these locations, it’s probably a wise investment to have these volumes in your own personal library.
I’ve always been a little afraid that I will do something utterly inappropriate, like hug him, if I am ever fortunate enough to be in the same room with Mr. Heinegg.
As an African American woman, and someone who appreciates that the past is never quite as distant as we think, Heinegg’s work is deeply meaningful to me. Descendants of these families have roots that literally predate the United States of America.
This works well illustrates that the racial categories that colonial elites created, crafted out of whole cloth for exploitive purposes, were never able to create the hard lines they desired. They wanted people to be black or white—not these messy “mulattoes” and mixed race persons that didn’t fit neatly into anything they were trying to construct.
Thank you, Paul Heinegg, for the untold hours you have dedicated to this most worthy history. I apologize in advance for the hug I will probably give you.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
I purchased Paul Heinegg’s ‘Free African Of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina’ Volume’s I and I I, and found the names of relatives who were free people of color in North Carolina and Virginia. Mr. Heinegg’ s books are with the expense.
Yes, I think there are a lot of researchers who will find their family in these books. They are expensive, but well worth it to have them in your personal library.
Thanks for sharing,