New Initiative for U.S. Slave Records

Michigan State University Receives Almost $1,500,000 to Create Online Slavery Database

Michigan State University will receive nearly $1.5 million to create a new online database that will allow folks to navigate the records of millions of enslaved people and their descendants, a boon for historians and African Americans who are interested in knowing more about their ancestry.

As a genetic genealogist, I could not be more thrilled to see this initiative by Michigan State University to consolidate and index slave records!

As a searcher, I have run across records of slaves that may not be accessible to their descendants and have struggled with how to make those records more searchable and findable. I have resorted to tagging these records in the online genealogical database and creating searchable family trees with titles like “7 People held in slavery by William Bone 1744-1828 Iradell County NC.” Making sure there names/locations are searchable and also that their slave owner is identifiable because many former slaves retained their former owner’s names after emancipation.

I have also identified two slaves owned by the one line of my family that was in the South during the civil war. As a solid yankee with the vast majority of my ancestry in the Northeast and Midwest, learning that anyone in my family owned slaves was a punch in the gut. I am trying to make sure they can be recognized as a legacy of our family. Those slaves are conveniently not mentioned in any of other family trees I have found, despite copious civil war documentation. I don’t yet know how long they were owned by my family or if they were parented by my ancestors, but I want their descendants to be able to find them (and find me/my DNA if they want to explore genetic connections).

I have thought a lot about genetic genealogy as a small act of reparation for those who suffered the loss of their families, names and cultures, whether it was through slavery, war or adoption. Even now, African American adoptees or those of unknown parentage still hit the stumbling block of slavery in trying to identify their recent ancestry. Genetic genealogists usually need to be able to trace backward prior to the 1860s to be able to identify current living ancestral lines that would lead to an unknown parent. The legacy of slavery is still keeping African American families apart.

This database initiative is a huge step in the right direction. See link below for more information.