How Do I Decode Slave Records?

tags: slavery, genealogy, African Americans, census



For many African Americans the paper trail back to your ancestral origins hits a wall once you reach the slavery era. During the hunt for information about my great-great grandmother, Jane Gates, who was born into slavery in 1819, we were able to find her in the 1870 census, the oldest census to list all African Americans by name. Before then, few counties listed slaves by name, so we shifted gears and searched the "slave schedules" for the 1860 and 1850 census information for slave owners named Gates. However, we weren't able to find anyone under that name who owned a slave that was around her age. This means that she was owned by someone with a surname other than Gates, and the only way to find her by using records would be to undertake a systematic search of the estate papers, wills and tax records, and other documents of every slave holder in Allegany County, Md....



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