The following sources are some of the records available to assist researchers in conducting African American historical or genealogical research.
Learn more about Researching African American History from the Library of Virginia.
These volumes comprise the complete probate record: wills, inventories, estate and sale accounts, and administrator, executor, or guardian bonds. Slaves are found in the probate records frequently as property inherited, and inventories often list slaves with a monetary value correlating, most often, to age and sex.
View the Will Book Index here.
Prior to 1865, deed books included transfers of personal property in the form of deeds of gift or deeds of bargain and sale. Deed books also record deeds of manumission, the document in which an owner legally freed his or her slave(s). Other documents which are useful to African American historical research include certificates of importation and estate divisions, in which property was divided among several heirs. Free blacks can be found in the deed books participating in property transactions. Transfers of property to churches and schools are also recorded in the deed books.
View the Deed Books index here.
The court order books recorded the daily hearings of the court. Court actions involving African Americans may include, but are not limited to: recording slave ages for taxation purposes, freedom suits, and criminal cases where slaves or free African Americans are either the victim or the perpetrator. Court order books also contain records related to runaway slaves held at the jail and individuals reimbursed for serving on slave patrols.
The Historic Records Center holds records of free African Americans living in Fairfax County. Deed books contain deeds of manumission and deeds in which freedmen bought property. The probate records contain wills and inventories of freed African Americans, and some estate and sale accounts show free African Americans participating in business transactions.
The Registration of Free Negroes, dating from 1822 - 1865, records those African Americans who were free and permitted to live in Fairfax County. The registrations provide information such as physical description, age, and the method by which the individual obtained his or her freedom. Family members, date of emancipation, and/or aliases might also be recorded as proof of freedom.
Vital records – such as birth, marriage, and death -- were not recorded by the county courts until 1853. Slave births and deaths were recorded with the child and mother’s names only; in the place of the father, the owner’s name was listed.
While free blacks could marry, the Commonwealth of Virginia never recognized slave marriage as legal.
Marriage Licenses— Original marriage records from 1853 - 1957.
Birth Records – Birth Registers from 1853 – 1897, and original birth certificates from 1912 - 1917.
Death Records– Death Registers from 1853 – 1897, and original death certificates from 1912 – 1917.
For more information about Vital Records, click here.
Known as the “Court of Equity,” chancery court files contain the original papers of litigation and often pertain to the division of real and personal property in the event of death or divorce. Chancery court also heard cases concerning boundary disputes, estate divisions (land and slaves), and sales of property for the satisfaction of debts. Records can include important genealogical information as, often, families had to give depositions or list potential heirs.
For more information on Chancery cases, click here.
Land and Personal Property tax lists begin in 1851 and continue to 1980. Each tax book contains several lists of surnames arranged alphabetically by magisterial district (or North and South districts) and shows, in the case of land, the size of the property, the distance and direction from the courthouse, the value of the property, with and without buildings, and the amount of the tax assessed. Starting in 1891, land and property owned by African Americans was recorded separately, usually at the back of the tax book. This division lasted through the 1950s.
Please note: Our tax books between 1851 and 1900 are incomplete and in very fragile condition. Due to their size and condition, no copies will be made from original tax books. Because our tax books are kept in a separate location from the Historic Records Center, we can only pull three books at one time.
For information on utilizing these and other records pertaining to African American history/genealogy, please contact the Historic Records Center at 703-246-4168 or CCRHistoricRecords@fairfaxcounty.gov.
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Fairfax, VA 22035