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Alabama Genealogy & Ancestry

Founded in 1817, Alabama covers an area of approximately 52,000 square miles, making it the 30th largest state. As of 2016, it was home to 4,863,300 residents across 67 counties. Its capital is Montgomery, and its state website is

Alabama’s largest city is Birmingham, with a population of 212,157. Following that, major cities include Montgomery (200,022 residents), Huntsville (193,079 residents), Mobile(192,904 residents), Tuscaloosa(99,543 residents), Hoover(84,978 residents), Dothan(68,468 residents), Auburn(63,118 residents), Decatur(55,072 residents), Madison(47,959 residents), and Florence(39,959 residents).

Bordered by Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama’s nickname is The Yellowhammer State, and its state motto is “We dare defend our rights.” The state’s name is derived from the Alabama people, a tribe whose members occupied the region in its earlier years.

Unfortunately, Alabama’s county records vary vastly in both quantity and quality – some have been carefully and painstakingly conserved, while others have been substantially uncared for. Others have even disappeared altogether. We’ve done what we can to help aspiring genealogists sift through what records do exist.

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Alabama History

Alabama shares the rich cultural history of many states in the Southeast. The Spanish were the first Europeans to enter the region, with their first fully-documented visit taking place in 1519, led by Hernando de Soto. His expedition, which included an army of approximately 500 men, traveled throughout Alabama’s interior in search of gold.

Ultimately, they returned home empty-handed, though not before a violent encounter with the Choctaw chief Tuscaloosa, one of the bloodiest battles between Native Americans and Europeans in history.

What followed was a series of struggles for control of the region between the British, French, and Spanish. Initially, France was victorious thanks to the efforts of the LeMoyne Brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville et d’Ardillières and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. The two brothers sailed into Mobile Bay in 1699, founding Fort Louis – the first permanent European settlement in Alabama – to the north of present-day Mobile.

French control of the region would not last, however, and it changed hands several times over the following years. First, the 1763 Treaty of Paris ceded Mobile – still the only settled area of the region – to the British. Then, when Spain declared war on Great Britain in 1779, the American Revolution came to Alabama.

This conflict would ultimately end with the capture of Mobile by Bernardo Galvez in 1780. This saw the British cede its holdings in the Mobile region to Spain with the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Even this ownership was short-lived, however.

In 1795, the Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as Pinckney’s Treaty, was proposed. Primarily meant to establish friendship between the United States and Spanish Florida, it primarily cemented the borders of the two parties, with all lands below the 31st parallel given to Spain and all lands above the 31st parallel given to the US. It also stipulated that the United States could freely navigate the Mississippi River and allowed American merchants to transfer goods without paying cargo fees at the port of New Orleans.

Even this agreement was short-lived, however. In 1813, the United States forced Spain out of Alabama entirely, claiming that Mobile was legally part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. During this time, squatters (those who had no legal claim to the lands they settled) also began making their way to Alabama, forcing out Native American tribes.

More counties were created by European settlers moving into ceded native lands up until the establishment of Alabama as its own territory on 3 March 1817. Not long afterwards, Alabama officially achieved statehood on 14 December 1819, when the last of the region’s Native American lands were ceded to settlers. This resulted in a massive wave of settlement from both Europeans and African Americans.

By 1820, Alabama’s population had increased to more than 125,000. By 1830, it had exploded to over 300,000. Nearly a fifth of those were slaves, with cotton as the state’s principal cash crop.

Native Americans in the region would hold on for at least a few decades after Alabama achieved statehood. However, ultimately by 1840 all but a few scattered remnants of tribes had been forced west beyond the Mississippi River. This event and its ramifications are further detailed in Mary Elizabeth Young’s Redskins, Ruffleshirts and Rednecks: Indian Allotments in Alabama and Mississippi, 1830–1860 (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961).

1840 also marked the beginning of Alabama’s economic and agricultural troubles. The economic depression that swept across the United States in 1837 resulted in banking issues that caused many Alabamians to lose their life savings. Amidst these troubles, many crops were ruined by drought and several outbreaks of yellow fever further increased suffering in the region.

The state made multiple efforts to create a more industrialized economy during this period. It constructed multiple railroads, built cotton manufacturing facilities, and attempted to breathe more life into its mining industry. These efforts were generally hampered by a shortage of capital, and the majority of what investment money remained was still put into cotton and slaves.

Alabama’s growth continued in spite of its economic troubles, with the population reaching 1 million in 1860. During this period, there was also intense economic rivalry between the economic North and the agricultural South of Alabama, especially concerning state rights and slavery. This unresolved conflict further deepened until 11 January 1861, when Alabama seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.

Compared with other Confederate states, Alabama – with the exception of the Mobile area – experienced relatively little military action. However, the economic, political, and social life of the state, already suffering from the depression of the 40s and 50s, was even further devastated. The state was readmitted to the Union on 25 June 1868, during which time post Civil War reconstruction and emancipation resulted in deepening poverty and mass migration.

Throughout the 1850s and 1870s, nearly 15% of Alabama’s white population migrated, with a third of those migrants going to Texas.

In 1870, the state redoubled its industrialization efforts, building railroads and expanding its mining industry to tap into its rich deposits of coal, iron ore, and limestone. By 1880, Alabama’s steel, iron, and lumber industries entered a period of rapid expansion. During this time, the cities of Anniston, Birmingham, and Cullman were founded atop that expansion.

World War I represented a period of relative economic prosperity for Alabama. Agricultural production increased, and a significant upturn in the state’s shipping industry led to increased foreign trade. Unfortunately, this was immediately followed by the Great Depression, during which Alabamians suffered a wealth of new financial hardships – along with the rest of the US.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, established in 1933 by the federal government, developed dams and power plants on the Tennessee River for inexpensive electricity, boosting Alabama’s industrial growth. This somewhat helped the state’s residents weather the economic hardships of the depression. World War II saw further expansion of Alabama’s agricultural and industrial production, alongside the installation of several military training sites, including Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

This ended up being the first step towards launching the United States into the Space Age. In the 50s and 60s, agriculture and industry in Alabama became more diversified, requiring fewer agricultural workers. This forced many to seek employment in urban areas outside the state. Alabama wrestled with serious racial issues during this time as well – the Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 and the Birmingham Demonstrations of 1963 attracted a great deal of media attention.

With the passage of the U.S. Voting Rights Act in August 1965, African Americans played an increasing role in local and state politics and commerce.