Friday, September 09, 2011

Database of Names to Trace Slave Ancestry

Picked Up From The New York Times;

A Database of Names to Trace Slave Ancestry By EVE M. KAHN

Scholars at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond have set out to leaf through eight million documents dating back to the 17th century, seeking the names of slaves. The preliminary results, listing about 1,400 enslaved people and 180 owners, will start appearing on Wednesday in a database posted at

“Unknown No Longer: A Database of Virginia Slave Names” is searchable by locations, professions and first and last names, among other keywords. Listings for Thomas Jefferson’s holdings do not yet mention Sally Hemings, but they do include “Thruston the son of Isabel” and “Bec daughter of Minerva.” A search for nurses brings up Judy, age 10, valued at $900, working at a plantation near Fredericksburg, Va., with dozens of other slaves including Jef Davis, Magnus, Fenton and Jinney.

The historical society is finding the names in inventories, wills, correspondence, family Bibles and memoirs, among other paperwork. Each page has been scanned in such high resolution that researchers can zoom in “down to the pores of the paper,” said Paul A. Levengood, the society’s president.

The database will help genealogists trace ancestries, “providing links that families have been looking for, literally, for generations,” Mr. Levengood said. Descendants of plantation owners may be dismayed to learn how many slaves lived at the properties; in some cases legends have persisted that the families only had loyal servants.

“We’re trying to put out essentially unmediated information,” Mr. Levengood said. “This is just evidence. What you make of it, you make of it.”

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