DISCOVERY: Slave Name Roll Project

The 1870 brick wall is no less surmountable in cyberspace than it is in the analog archives of today’s courthouses. Court records from times past divulge varieties of slave/slaveholder relationships. Knowing the records exist is not the same as locating and examining them for myself. I do realize this problem is not exclusive to African Americans. But the fact still remains that it is more difficult due to the fact that my enslaved ancestors were considered chattel property; and, prior to 1870, they had no surnames. And even their given names are inconsistently recorded in the census records that followed.

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Some have managed to scramble over their brick walls — only to find . . . yet another. Then what do we do? We dust ourselves off and rescale to the other side to devise another way.

Insurmountable? Maybe. Impenetrable? Not if Cathy Meder-Dempsey and Schalene Jennings Dagutis have anything to do with it. This morning, I had the pleasure of reading their respective blogs: Opening Doors in Brick Walls and Tangled Roots and Trees. Both of these women have taken up the mantle of sharing the names of slaves found in their own genealogies. For them, they aren’t just names. They sense that descendants of these indirect extensions of their families could be searching for their histories as well.

Because of Cathy’s insightful blog, I’ll never look at a brick wall the same way again. She begins her three-part series with an introduction to her 5th Great-grandfather, James Sims (1754-1845). Then she meticulously describes her encounters of slave names among the inventory records of various Virginia counties.

In Parts 2 and 3, her account of Mr. Sims’ slave connection, and the steps he took in manumitting Isaac, make for a compelling read for either side of the unfortunate institution. Cathy not only posts images of the artifacts (Deed of Manumission, Manumission Letter, and Petition to Grant Residence). She precedes each with a brief introduction and follows with a full transcription. The descendants of Isaac Sims of Nicholas County, Virginia have an insightful look into his life.

And Schalene’s idea to launch the Slave Name Roll Project is an honorable undertaking of which I’ll be sure to make my colleagues aware. She started with posting anything relating to slaves that she found among the wills and property records of her ancestors. She describes her process here. She ends her introduction with a simple question:

If your ancestors owned slaves, will you join us in contributing to the Slave Name Roll Project?

Of course, these details are included in court house records, library collections, and family histories. But the fact that a slaveholder’s descendant reaches out to a slave’s descendant is a welcome advance in African American genealogy.

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28 thoughts on “DISCOVERY: Slave Name Roll Project

  1. I was cleaning up my files and came across three photo files with this name “u.s. interviews with former slaves 1936-1938”. I have the screen print of the pages but not the source so I put that phrase in a search and got the links to the pages. They are held in Ancestry.com collection and the page that comes up is a search for name page on Ancestry.com. If there is a name I can look up for you I will be glad to do so.
    Thank You.
    Jose from Clarkston, Michigan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Enhanced News Archive and commented:
    Sharing one’s words with others is why I started my blog, sharing others’ words which have inspired me is why I continue to write my blog. Pointing to others and saying “This is worth reading” is just as important as trying to retell the story. Miss Donna shares her thoughts and now in this piece shares her readings with us; pointing us to good blogs and to new friends. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did.

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  3. Pingback: Recommended Reads | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

    • Thank you so much for including my posts in your “Recommended Reads” feature. I will certainly find some “uncharted” blogs in your list. 🙂

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  4. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my post. I still marvel at Cathy’s and Schalene’s posts that prompted me to write this one. It’s like a domino effect. Cathy was inspired by her findings. Schalene was inspired by Cathy’s post about the slave names she found in her research. And I was inspired by their dedication that can really make a difference in African American genealogy. That’s why it’s important for us to get the word out about the Slave Name Project. Thank you for re-posting on your site.

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  5. Reblogged this on familytreegirldotcom and commented:
    Do you really have a brick wall prior to 1870 when researching African American ancestry? It is good to analyze if you are the one putting up the wall or is it really the records and resources. Being able to step outside the box and view things a little differently will help. Analyzing records is key. It is important to understand the records-asking why was it created, when was it created, know the laws in place when records were created. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist does an excellent job providing tips and examples of how important it is to know the law. (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/)
    The blog, DISCOVERY: Slave Name Roll Project I am sharing is one to follow. Read her past blogs and gain some tips and steps on breaking down those slave research walls. Share your findings!

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    • Thank you. I agree this is a much-needed enhancement to the genealogy community. Kudos to everyone who participates. I’ve read a few of your posts. Your writing is amazing. You really draw the reader into the piece.

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  6. i love how you have put your words – slaveholder’s descendant reaches out to a slave’s descendant is a welcome advance in African American genealogy. As I read my descendant’s wills previously and read through the slaves names, I stopped to think about them, but never knew what to do with their names. But now there is a place to stop and post so they may be found. That is what genealogy is all about – the sharing and helping. It gives you great pleasure to help others and in return there will be someone willing to help you at some point. If you don’t share, the information will continue to be lost – it doesn’t stop just with you. I look forward to also contributing to the Slave Honor Roll project. I’m excited to be a part of it – we are all family.

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    • Yes, I like that there’s now a common ground. Even though the records were sparse and hidden, it doesn’t have to remain that way. It’s up to us now. And this is a great start. Welcome to the effort. I look forward to your information.

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  7. Thank you so much! The project is still in its infancy but the reaction has been so positive and the contributions continue to roll in. Getting the word out is so important and you did such a moving job of doing so.

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    • Thank you, Schalene. It’s the least I could do for your considerate offering. I was immediately touched by your post; and I marvel at what you’re doing. I will promote it outside of the blogosphere as well. I plan to join my local AAHGS this month and will share this with them prior to the next meeting. I’ll notify the national society as well. This is gonna be BIG, girl!!

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      • The project is a human thing to do. No more, no less. And humans have been moved by it, contributed to it, and promoted it. It’s the continuous collaboration of everyone who seeks to know more about their family’s past that will make this small endeavor successful.

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  8. Reblogged this on Opening Doors in Brick Walls and commented:
    Thank you Miss Donna of “Daughter of Slave Ancestry” for this wonderful post. It nearly brought tears to my eyes and made my heart beat faster. And when I saw the image she used I was blown over!! It shows that she knows exactly what Opening Doors in Brick Walls means to me.

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  9. MIss Donna you nearly brought me to tears and my heart beat faster reading this. Living in Europe, I know how hard it is to find American records. From the beginning I learned that sharing is the only way that I can get my hands on documents that are not on pay-sites. I was only sharing what I have and did not realize that this would result in Schalene starting the Slave Name Roll Project. Thank you so much for putting into words what this means to you and other descendants of slaves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.S. Miss Donna, I came straight to this blogpost through the WordPress notification that you were linking to my blog. Later while scrolling through my WP reader I saw the image “Finding an Opening in Your Brick Wall” you used and LOVE it!

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    • Cathy, I had a similar reaction as I scrolled reading screen after screen of your undertaking. Genealogists are the most caring and sharing people I know. And Schalene’s response really bowled me over! She just “took the ball and ran with it,” didn’t she? Awesome!

      Oh, and I’ll insert the image into the post; because I don’t think people have caught on to WordPress’s “Featured Image” feature. To see it in action, click the “Home” tab in my top navigation panel. Each button above the image represents a post.

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