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Path of kindness: Sharing genealogy of people enslaved by your family

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You could possibly hold the missing links to the family history of an African American researcher. Many descendants of former slave owners have been inspired to share the clues from the past that they discovered in the process of conducting their own family history research either directly or anonymously. If you also have felt the duty to do so, how do you determine what and where to share? The suggestions below will help you start the process of making vital information available to others who have the desire to bring an ancestor’s life to light.

Thoughts about sharing

If this idea is not something you have contemplated before, consider the following questions:

  1. How much is your identity and the knowledge about where you came from worth to you?
  2. How much would it be worth to you for someone to help reorient you to the memories of loved ones directly related to you who had been lost to you completely?
  3. How does it feel knowing that you might hold the answers someone may be searching for without success?

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Buncombe County Register of Deeds Office made slave deeds available online for free becoming the first county in the country to do so. They reveal the names of people traded as slaves. James Vester Miller was one such person. This is what his granddaughter, Andrea Clark had to share:

“It is very important to see where you came from to know where you are going. History has been kept from African Americans and now we are learning more about our heritage. Our ancestors were strong, honorable, caring, and decent people who wanted the best for their community." See Slave Deeds Compiled by Register of Deeds office

Piecing families back together

A stellar example of a descendant who is making great attempts to share what she knows and locate descendants of formerly enslaved ancestors is Professor Mariann S. Regan, author of Into the Briar Patch: A Family Memoir. Professor Regan and her cousin discovered a 37 page journal listing enslaved parents and the first names of their children from 1804 all the way to 1879.

Professor Regan wrote about this discovery in her blog post, A Lucky Glimpse: Family Lines of Slaves, where she discussed sharing so others could find:

“I’m copying each page of this “Negroes’ Ages” journal with my Flip-Pal before I turn it over to the South Carolina Historical Society for the archive. Maybe these pages can be used to detect more family lines. I’ll put them in a later post. And I’m fervently hoping there is someone out there in genealogy land who will find this post helpful in their family research.”

Be sure to read her last posts to find out how she worked to piece the families back together.

Where to share

These efforts to reconstruct families may extend beyond what you may feel comfortable with, however sharing what you know would be greatly appreciated. You could help put into context the family history of someone attempting to research an enslaved person held by your ancestor. You may have in your possession the only clues they will ever find. Simply donate to a local history department of the public library or one of the following places:

  • university library manuscript division
  • local genealogical society
  • online websites or blogs
  • Afrigeneas receives slave record contributions. Learn about how to contribute what you know.

What to share

Search through any personal papers that belonged to your family. The following list gives you an idea of types of things that may be on hand:

  • a written account of the oral history
  • listings in the family bible
  • wills/estate records naming enslaved people
  • journal accounts
  • family letters
  • photographs

While conducting your own research you may find important clues. For a list of specific records types that may document enslaved people, see the section entitled “About the Slave Data Collection” here.

If you have actually connected with the descendants of a person once held in bondage by your ancestor or donated information, please share how you felt about the experience: robin.savingstories@gmail.com. Be sure to subscribe to the National Genealogy Examiner to be among the first to receive the next article.

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