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Tracing Black History at Surrey History Centre

Portrait photograph of John Springfield, c. 1880s (SHC ref 1714/1)For centuries, people have moved to Surrey from all over the UK and throughout the world. Some came as merchants, some as economic migrants and others came enslaved, and they appear in the county's historical records from the sixteenth century. Through these records we can see the diversity of the county's inhabitants and glean an important insight into the lives of Black people in Surrey over the centuries. This brief guide helps show how Surrey History Centre can help you discover Black family and community history.

Where to start?

Tracing Black ancestors can be challenging as few records may be held in Britain. Each country maintains its own archives and register offices and records may be incomplete or not survive. However, there is a growing awareness around making Black History accessible and it is an area of research which is opening up with more records available online every month. Below are just a few of the sources that may be useful to you:

  • Birth, marriage and death records (slave marriages are rare, and slave burials were often unrecorded as they usually occurred in the grounds of the plantation or house)
  • Baptism registers (the baptism of slaves was discouraged until the late 19th century)
  • Military records
  • Personal papers and wills
  • Newspapers & Directories
  • Electoral Registers
  • Migration records such as passenger lists and naturalization records
  • Land and Property papers, including Plantation Records, and records of the Slave Registry and Slave Compensation Commission

Online resources

Online family history sites and are free to use at Surrey libraries and Surrey History Centre and contain a vast range of records and guides.

Other websites that can help include the following:

Find out more about Black history in Surrey on the Exploring Surrey's Past website


Portrait photograph of John Springfield, shoemaker of Guildford and son of Zanzibar Chief, c.1880s (SHC ref 1714/1)

Files available to download