Sunday, April 13, 2014

Researching Your Slave Ancestors

Claretha Hughes Day
Slave schedules were added to the federal census in 1850 and 1869, but enumerator weren't required to list each slave by name. What you will find is the name of the slave holder and a description of each slave--age, sex, and color.

Researching your ancestors who were slaves and for genealogist and family historian can be a happy but emotional moment. Finding slave records with your family name on it makes you think about the moment they were being sold or purchased. You're  happy that you found them and you are sad because you know that this was a sad day for them or their children.

Researching your slave ancestor can be a challenging task, but it's possible in many cases.  Knowing the last surname of the slave holder, or the surname  that your family carries. My third great grandfather Thomas and his mother Carrie Richardson was appraised at eleven hundred dollars in St. Helena Parish.

If a free woman gave birth to a child, her child were free; if a woman were a slave, her child was a slave. Although little has been written and published on African-Americans who owned slaves, some did own slaves. The first records I found of a African-American man owning slaves were in St. Mary Parish was a man by the name Romaine Verdun.

Assumption Sale of Slaves Books
Some large plantations had as many as 1000 plus slaves. On the Benjamin and Celia Bankston Richardson  Plantation were my third great grandfather and his mother lived, there were twenty-three slaves on the plantation. Using your list of ancestral family members from the 1870 census, subtract 10 years from your subjects' 1870 ages to estimate their ages in 1860. Isolate the names and ages of those who were living in 1860 for the next steps.

Look at the neighborhood where your ancestors lived in 1870 for white families with the same surname. Make your search parish wide,  countywide, or even statewide, if your ancestors' name was unique. Create a list of same-surname candidates for the slaveholding family. Include possible spelling variations: Harold, Harrell  Harrel, Harrell, and so on. Consider going back as far as the 1850 census, or that county's marriage and deed records, to look for white families of that surname.

Slave sale of Carrie and her
son Thomas Richardson
After you determine which of the white families on your list owned slaves in 1860 by looking at that county's 1860 slave schedule. You might be able to eliminate families whose names aren't there, but also check the 1850 slave schedules before you do. The 1850 and 1860 slave schedules are rarely indexed and name only slaveholders (with each slaveholder, they list slaves by sex, age and color, but not by name). 

I found books on the earlier white settlers who settled the parish or county to be very helpful to me. These books will give you a lot of information about the earlier settlers, where they came from, if they brought slaves with them.

Also I found the passport that was issued to Benjamin Richardson on September 23, 1807. He was requesting a passport to travel through Indian nations. He and others were traveling from Bullock County Georgia. I didn't find any slaves in the records. He was traveling with his family to settle in Washington Parish.