Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Bit by Bit: Slavery and Family History
Johnston County, home to Smithfield, North Carolina, has a very handsome and user-friendly collection of online archives.
The county has a rich agricultural history that was made possible, in large measure, by slave labor. Included in the online collection are two important resources for African-American genealogy.
Slave Name Index for Johnston County, NC. Aptly described as "one of the first of its kind", this name database compiles information from a few dozen primary sources -- deeds, wills, court records, tax rolls, and estate papers. The result is a lookup list of slave names.
Slavery being what it was, pinning down particular individuals and families is tricky going. Most slave records are first names only, and spelling is highly variable. Details on the slaves, and slave owners are provided, which can help facilitate research.
The Johnston County Heritage Center also offers to provide copies of original records, to those who request them.
Slave Marriage and Cohabitation Index. Emancipated slaves were offered the opportunity to officially record the fact of their marriage, and these records too, are available online. Full names are generally included, and you can search on either the first name or last name of the groom or the bride.
The Virginia Memory project has some similar slave and ex-slave records available online (click on African-American Resources to access them). The Register of Colored Persons Cohabiting Together as Man and Wife collection is not very extensive, but there is a great deal of information available for each of the families listed...full name for the husband and wife as well as former owners, age, birthplace, occupation, children's names and age, and more. This will be a goldmine for the fortunate researchers who find their families included here.
A few other African-American genealogy resources to note have been written up in earlier posts:
African American Family History
Slaves and Slavery
Filling in Michelle Obama's Family Tree
Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.
And don't forget to also check for your family history at NewspaperArchive.com and Ancestry.com.
These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.