Saturday, January 22, 2011

Researching Slavery Era Records

A few books featuring Slavery Era Research Tips and Information

I had a chance to attend a workshop sponsored by the Central Maryland Chapter of the African American Historical & Genealogical Society in Columbia Maryland.

The speaker was Aaron Dorsey and he shared a number of valuable strategies regarding researching ancestors who were enslaved, and how to find them in a number of records.

Many know already that after using resources in the home, conducting oral history and exploring vital records, the census records will be useful from 1930, going back to 1870. And then----there is the WALL!  For those who ancestors are enslaved, the "Wall of 1870" is real.  One will not find their ancestors easily prior to that census year.  In 1860 and earlier years, the ancestors were enslaved, listed as mere property if at all, and usually not within a discernible family group to allow the researcher to easily stay on the ancestral trail.

Researcher Aaron Dorsey provided some very good information to the group including a strategy for creating a census profile, identifying the possible slave owner, how to narrow down possible slave owners, and he did advise researchers to not assume that a surname will be the clue to the last slave owner.   

Aaron Dorsey Discussing Strategies for Slavery Era Research

Among the steps that he outlined:

1) Research the contemporary family first.  Always a good beginning strategy.

2) Collect data on collateral ancestors, when researching previous generations. (He gave a wonderful example of not knowing the maiden name of one his gr. grandmothers.  By obtaining death records from all of the children, 3 of the children listed the same maiden name of the mother. Had he relied on his direct line and ignored the collateral records, he would have missed that information!)

3) Learn the history of the local area. Local histories, historical society journals and heritage books of the county can be useful resources for genealogists.
Heritage books such as this one from Virginia can provide useful information about the county for researchers.

4) Research the Post Slavery Era closely ---the early years of freedom to get information about the past:  Freedman's Savings, Freedman's Bureau labor contracts, marriage records, cohabitation records and more, can provide data that will lead the researcher in the right direction to learning about the years prior to emancipation.

5) Identify the Slave Owning Family. He presented a good number of strategies to identify possible slave owners: 
-Study those who lived close to one's formerly enslaved family.
-Compare the 1870 census with the 1860 census to find the same community during the pre-emancipation era.
-Take note of the value of property in those 2 census years.
-Take note also of those who owned significant amounts of property as indicated in census records.

6) When studying the slave holding family, he recommended the following:
-Create a basic genealogy of the slave holding family
-Develop a census profile on all members of the slave holding family.
-Examine Tax entries
-Review conveyance records or deeds
-Examine personal papers

It was a very thorough presentation, including his recommendation of books that can be critical for conducting more research.

In general it was a good presentation with many questions from the group.  This is a subject in which many more sessions are required and hopefully more researchers will in the future share their strategies for researching this challenging era.


LindaRe said...

Great advice on researching African Americans prior to 1870. I have found the recommendations useful.

Mavis said...

Good recommendations and ones I hope to use as I regroup in 2011 to try to attack my 1870 brick walls, again.

Professor Dru said...

Sounds like this was a great workshop. Thanks for sharing Angela.