Unknown no longer: A Virginia slave name database

More people are now interested in tracing their ancestry than ever. Ancestry.com is one of the major sources that people use to trace the roots of their family as far into the past as is possible. But African-Americans run into a dead-end quickly when using that tool to research just a few generations into the past. The Chester Library branch will offer “Unknown No Longer: A Virginia Slave Name Database,” on Monday, Feb. 11, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Virginia Historical Society is continually adding to its database documents going back to the Civil War, including records kept by slave owners in Virginia. Two major plantations in Chesterfield are included.

“Unknown No Longer” represents the work of many people.” said Laurantt Lee, Ph.D., “Our goal is to uncover the names of every enslaved person found in the sources.”

The Chesterfield County libraries and Chesterfield County Historical Society of Virginia have invited the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) to introduce the program launched in the fall of 2011 called “Unknown No Longer: A Virginia Slave Name Database.” This genealogical tool offers a glimpse into nineteenth century Virginia history.

The Virginia Historical Society launched “Unknown No Longer: A Virginia Slave Name Database” in the fall of 2011. This genealogical tool offers a glance into nineteenth century Virginia history. Virginia Historical Society presenters will be Dr. Lauranett Lee at the Chester Library and Paige Newman at the Midlothian Library. An attendee will learn how this database works and will be able to explore some of the findings recorded on the database.

Dr. Lee said, there are still many documents to examine but they wanted to bring the project to the public now as a work in progress so that researcher can benefit right away.

According to the “Unknown No Longer” website (unknown no longer.vahistory.org) “This database is the latest step by the VHS to increase access to its varied collections relating to Virginians of African descent. Since its founding in 1831, the VHS has collected unpublished manuscripts, a collection that now numbers more than 8 million processed items.”

Cable news channel CNN reported last year, “Where slavery began in the American colonies in 1619, the Virginia Historical Society has discovered the identities of 3,200 slaves from unpublished private documents, providing new information for today’s descendants in a first-of-its-kind online database.”

Browsing the database, one finds an entry for slaves owned by William Ransom Johnson, owner of the Oakland plantation west of Pocahontas State Park. Johnson owned over 60 slaves in 1844, and the roster list the names and ages of the slaves who worked the fields and around the house. The list included each slave and in some cases women and their children. The age of Johnson’s slaves ranged from two to 65 years old. On the back of Johnson’s list is a note in pencil that says, “Oakland Negroes.”

“Whether you’re a professional historian or an amateur at genealogist or someone interested in African-American history; “Unknown No Longer” may hold the evidence you are looking for,” Lee said on a video on the “Unknown No Longer” website. “The database is free and available to anyone with internet access. And, we’re adding new names all the time, so please come back and visit again and again.”

The next step is to create a database of the names of all the enslaved Virginians that appear in our unpublished documents. Thanks to a generous grant from Dominion Resources and the Dominion Foundation in January 2011, we launched the project that has resulted in this online resource. Named “Unknown No Longer,” the database seeks to lift from the obscurity of unpublished historical records as much biographical detail as remains of the enslaved Virginians named in those documents. In some cases there may only be a name on a list; in others more details survived, including family relationships, occupations, and life dates.

“Unknown No Longer” does not contain names that may appear in published sources at the VHS or in unpublished sources located in repositories other than the VHS. On the other hand, those whose names appear in the database need not have lived their lives solely in Virginia, for our collections contain plantation records, for example, kept by Virginians who moved to other states, taking their slaves with them. In addition, if we know that an individual named in a post-Civil War document had been enslaved before 1865, his or her name will appear in the database.

Lee says the Society would like for everyone to spread the word.

Learn how this database works and explore some of the VHS findings. Registration is recommended and began January 28. To register or for more information call the library.

Comments

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