Washington, DC Genealogy

In the United States, generally speaking, each state has jurisdiction over the government records that are kept regarding their inhabitants' births, marriages, deaths, divorces, land transactions, probates, health, disease, education etc. They were not responsible for private record-keeping efforts such as those done by churches, cemeteries, community groups, companies, businesses etc. Certain cities also participated in early record-keeping efforts even prior to their state's commencement of such things. And then there are numerous other entities involved with keeping records; these include shipping lines, publication companies (city and county directories, and phone books), orphanages, hospitals and military organizations. Researching for your genealogy in Washington, DC, is a different situation because it is not a state but more like an independent city such as you will find in some of the southern states.

If you are researching your genealogy in Washington, DC, then this article is for you. We will look at a bit of the history of Washington, DC, and some records that will help you with your Washington, DC, genealogy.

According to Wikipedia, the City of Washington was originally a separate municipality within the Territory of Columbia until an act of Congress in 1871 effectively merged the City and the Territory into a single entity called the District of Columbia. It is for this reason that the city, while legally named the District of Columbia, is known as Washington, D.C. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C.). It is important to understand this so that you understand how the genealogy records of Washington, DC, are arranged and organized.

In 1801, the District of Columbia consisted of 100 square miles that included the cities of Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria. The unincorporated portions of the District were divided into two counties - the county of Washington and the county of Alexandria. In the 1830s, due to economic decline and fear of abolition, the county of Alexandria (a major market in the slave trade) was returned back to the state of Virginia. In 1850 the slave trade was abolished in the District, although not slavery itself. By 1860, about 80% of the District's blacks were free. In 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, in part due to the slavery issue, Washington saw the expansion of its population because of the growth of the federal government and the influx of free blacks. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, which ended slavery in the District of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Footnote (www.footnote.com) has several collections of records that may assist you with your genealogy research in Washington, DC. In 1817, the American Colonization Society was formed to create Liberia and settle American blacks there. Headquarters were in Washington, DC. The information about the Society may help you with early Washington, DC, genealogy whether your ancestors were black or white. These records contain the names and other information of whites and blacks who donated and blacks and others who benefited from their efforts.

Another collection of data within Footnote is the Board of Commissioners - Emancipation of Slaves in DC, from meetings that took place in April 1862. Not much information is given about this body of date but names have been indexed so I suggest you try searching for your Washington, DC, genealogy in this source by name unless you have a petition number.

A collection that is easier to access is the Court Slave Records for DC, also found on Footnote. In order to receive compensation when slavery was abolished in DC in 1862, loyal owners were required to file slave schedules with the US District Court for the District of Columbia. These records go back as far as 1851.

Also of interest in Footnote are the Lincoln Assassination Papers which include trial transcripts and copies of the Daily National Intelligencer, the local newspaper. Mention may be made of your ancestor(s) in the newspaper of the time.

Some of the collections in Footnote are free and so noted. Others you will need to subscribe to in order to view the documents. At any rate, if you are doing your genealogy in Washington, DC, in the 1800s, you will find they lived in interesting times.

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