For African Americans, tracing their family stories has always been more challenging and almost impossible beyond a certain date. Because slaves were property, not people, they were not enumerated on census records before 1870. It’s THE brickwall for family historians with slave ancestors.
The Virginia Historical Society’s “Unknown No Longer” project and website is offering groundbreaking source material for researchers. Led by Curator of African American History, Lauranett Lee, the project data mines the VHS’ own records (8 million with origins in the 17th century) for every instance of slave ownership. It’s goal is “to uncover the names of every enslaved person found in these sources.” The documents are digitized, the names processed and the images are uploaded to the website. The website is free and updated almost weekly.
Researching White American ancestors means utilizing census records, land deeds, wills, vital records, military records, tombstone and other cemetery records, but for those researching African American before 1870 other documents are required. Bills of sale, account books, deeds of manumission/emancipation, travel passes, receipts, and broadsides are the foundations for slave research and the Unknown No Longer database.
Unknown No Longer is paving the way for new methods and sources in family history research!