Finding Histories: Page 2

If you’re interested in uncovering the early history of Connecticut’s African Americans in your community, you might begin with the map linked on the right. This map, from the collections of the Stratford Historical Society, shows the numbers of enslaved people in Connecticut in about 1790. The map also lists the names of prominent men who owned slaves and how many people each held in bondage, although this is obviously not a complete list.

Along similar lines, Guocun Yang, a history professor at Manchester Community College, created a town-by-town listing of slaveowners from the first federal census (made in 1790) and the number of captives each person owned. Dr. Yang took this information from the census report titled “Heads of Families, at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790.” Copies of the original handwritten census records, which record names, occupations, race, and free or enslaved status, along with many other details, are available on microfilm or online from commercial providers such as These records are invaluable aids to family or local history researchers.

As you research your town’s story, remember that no single resource holds the whole story. And yet, from looking at old records, old newspapers, early histories and a wealth of materials available online, there is, nearly always, a local story that begins to emerge. For teachers and their classes, and for amateur historians, this is particularly exciting and important work, because even an ordinary person can make new discoveries.

Your local library can be a great resource. Are there biographies of important people in the town’s early life? What kinds of information do they contain? There also may be early town histories that contain clues and information on the lives of African Americans who once lived in the town. Some towns are beginning in-depth explorations of these long-ago populations, and valuable documentation may already have been compiled. Informal family histories often end up in libraries, and these too can be a resource….