The Africa Conundrum

Can you locate persons born in Africa using the 1860 federal population census? Well, yes—if you’re creative!

Historical map of Africa ( photo)
Historical map of Africa ( photo)

First try the following search:


Ancestry Library Edition (Ancestry LE) tells us it has 27,493,971 hits. As you probably guessed given that crazily optimistic number, not one birthplace on the first three screens (only ones I checked) is Africa. What’s up with that, you may well ask? I honestly don’t know, boys and girls. For whatever reason, Ancestry’s search engine will not recognize Africa as a birthplace for census years 1850-1940, even though BIRTH—LOCATION is a search qualifier for each of those census years!

For better results, try this search in the 1860 Census:

SEARCH—KEYWORD: Africa (Exact)

This search retrieves 805 results. Now, those results can include any of the following:

1. Persons born in Africa
2. Persons who fathers/mothers were born in Africa
4. Persons whose given name or surname was Africa
4. Persons who lived in Africa, Spalding County, Georgia, USA

You can also look for persons born in Africa who were living in a particular place in 1860:

SEARCH—KEYWORD: Africa (Exact)

This search retrieves 27 hits.

You can do similar searches in any of the censuses for 1850-1940.

How can researchers access the federal population census? You may use Heritage Quest Online from home with a valid SLPL library card and PIN, or at Central Library or any of our branches.

You may use Ancestry Library Edition at Central Library or any of our branches.

Here’s a list of SLPL reference databases.

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of St. Louis Public Library