21 February 2013

8 Steps for Tracing Slave Ancestors

Family Tree Magazine recently posted "8 Steps for Tracing Slave Ancestors" by Franklin Carter Smith and Emily Anne Croom at http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/Find-Slave-Ancestors.  
Below is the article in its entirety - and a few notes from me regarding the research situation as far as Beaufort District is concerned. My notes will be italicized.
Follow these steps for using 1850 and 1860 slave schedules to trace your slave ancestors. 

Before starting to trace enslaved ancestors, you'll need research your family back to the Civil War in censuses, vital records and other genealogical sources. Find as much information as you can. Then review a family group sheet of the post-Civil War family members you want to focus on. You'll need a list of their given names and ages to (1) determine which family members might have been born as slaves and (2) determine the slaveholder's name. (Be sure to write these names and ages down  -- and bring the list with you!!!!!! -- so you can look at your list during the research process.  Trust me on this.  The names and dates of dead ancestors all start to run together when you're in the research moment.  That list will be crucial to setting yourself up for a productive research session.)  

If you know the slaveholding family's name, you can start researching that family. If not, start with the presumption that your ancestral family kept its former or most recent slaveholder's surname—but be alert for clues that imply otherwise. (Be alert as research indicates that about 40% of the newly freed enslaved changed their surname to be a name of their choice.)

Here are eight steps to get started:
1. Using your list of ancestral family members from the 1870 census, [the 1870 census is the first census in which the newly freed enslaved were listed by name] 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.
2. Look at the neighborhood where your ancestors lived in 1870 for white families with the same surname. Make your search 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: Harget(t), Hargit(t), Horgett, Hargot, Horgatt 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. (Beaufort County is considered a "burned county," which means that many of our pre-Civil War courthouse records were destroyed. Furthermore, the State of South Carolina did not require birth, marriage, or death certificates until the 1910s.  It may be hard to find marriage and deed records as suggested.) 
3. 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). You'll find a free index for the 1850 slave schedule on FamilySearch.org. Subscription site Ancestry.com hosts both the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules (see if your library offers Ancestry Library Edition free to patrons). [Note:  All branches of the Beaufort County Library system offer access to the Ancestry Library Edition database.] 

[For Beaufort, there is this list http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ajac/scbeaufort.htm BEAUFORT COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA LARGEST SLAVEHOLDERS FROM 1860 SLAVE CENSUS SCHEDULES and SURNAME MATCHES FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS ON 1870 CENSUS Transcribed by Tom Blake, August 2001]
4. Compare the ages of your ancestor's family group in 1860 with slaves' ages in households in the slave schedule. Does a group of slaves in any household match the list of your family members' sexes and ages? Remember that the slaves were grouped under the name of the slaveholder and identified by sex, color and age—rarely by name. Your ancestors might have been a family prior to the war, but the parents might have lived on neighboring farms, so search for the mother and children together.
5. Prioritize the slaveholding candidates according to what you find in the slave schedules:
  • Likely candidates: The ages of your ancestral family members fit within the ages listed in their 1860 slave schedules.
  • Less likely candidates: The ages of your ancestral family members and those listed on the 1860 schedule don't appear to coincide.
  • Least likely candidates: Those candidates not listed in either the 1860 or 1850 schedules. Some slaveholders might have been omitted, but the schedules are probably the most complete resource available.
6. Repeat this for the 1850 slave schedule, especially if your ancestors' ages indicate they were a family before 1850. Sometimes, people were accidentally omitted from both general population and slave schedules.
7. If your search produces enough evidence to suggest further investigation of a particular candidate, start researching that white family. Study the leading candidate(s) in the county records to determine if your family is included in those records. (Remember, though, that Beaufort County is considered a "burned county," which means that many of our pre-Civil War family and church records were destroyed.  Finding county records relating to the Civil War and earlier periods can be difficult - but not impossible!  Stay alert to other clues and sources at all times.)
8. Don't try to make your ancestor fit into an obviously unlikely match. If these steps above don't produce the name of the slaveholder, consider these factors:
  • Your family might have moved from its 1860 home after the war to a neighboring county or town. Although some freed men and women moved away after the war, often they remained on the same land for many years.
  • The slaveholding family might have moved away after the war. Prewar county records might reveal their identity. (Virtually every slaveholding family of coastal Beaufort County relocated to other areas after the Union invasion of November 1861.  Few returned after the conclusion of the hostilities.)
If you don't find candidates of the same surname as your family, consider slaveholders from the 1860 slave schedules who lived near your family in 1870. Review others who owned slaves in your focus county in 1860. Your ancestors might have lived on a plantation near the same-surname white family. 

Researching your family can be arduous - but it is so worth the effort! And, researching here can be even harder because of the loss of records.  However, nothing ventured means nothing gained. Charmaine and I are here to help guide you to potential sources.  We'll even set up an appointment to help you.  Contact us 255-6468 or gracec@bcgov.net to schedule a research consultation for you.

1 comment:

industridesign said...


very good for the different step for the details information for the blog for the nice post?

Step Repeat Banner