I checked a number of different resources in tracing the lives of Mobile’s free people of color. For instance, Mobile newspapers reported deaths of its residents, both white and nonwhite, slave and free. Various legal notices appeared in newspapers as well as criminal activities of whites and blacks. Mobile court records – city, circuit, chancery, probate – contain information on free people of color, including genealogical data. Acts of the state legislature, state laws, and city ordinances shed light upon the lives of free nonwhites in Mobile. Some free nonwhites advertised their services in Mobile city directories.
Schedules of federal census records reveal pertinent information about free nonwhites and some slaves who appear by given name in the 1840 Mobile County census. Yes, some slaves appear by their given names in federal censuses. I traced free people of color in these schedules: population, slave, mortality, agricultural, and manufacturers or industry. Tables 1-20 in the appendix of my dissertation are based upon the Seventh and Eighth Censuses, 1850 and 1860, agricultural schedules, Mobile County. Each table contains the names of free nonwhite farmers and data on their farms.
Mobile church records were an invaluable resource, especially Catholic birth, marriage, and death registers. As early as 1781 Mobile priests maintained separate registers for whites and nonwhites. Since Alabama did not maintain statewide birth and death records in the period before 1865 these records were important, for example, as they often contained dates of birth as well as the names of parents of the person being baptized. I also checked the “white” registers for records pertaining to people of color.
More on tracing free people of color next time.