Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Fantastic Find: Ancestry's New Free Database May Help Fill Historical Gaps for Black Americans

On my way home yesterday I was listening to NPR's All Things Considered and one of their feature stories was titled:

This database could help descendants of enslaved people learn about their ancestry.*

Ancestry has made available tens of thousands of old newspaper records about formerly enslaved people. If you're wondering what sort of information can be found in this type of record, here is the explanation given by Nicka Sewell-Smith, a genealogist and senior story producer at

These records are incredible because they come from approximately 38,000 newspaper articles, and the date range is from approximately 1788 to 1867. And amongst those 38,000 newspaper articles, we have the names and details of more than 183,000 formerly enslaved people in a free collection that potentially could help millions of descendants discover more about their ancestors...

With this collection, you are really getting a bird's-eye view into the everyday nature of enslavement in the United States. A lot of times, we just think about the roles of those involved in the system, and, you know, it just is corralled to the formerly enslaved and their slaveholders. But you'll also see folks who were seeking their freedom and their actual details of what they looked like, what they wore.

There are even individuals in this collection where you get to learn about them and their personality traits, like - there's one man that I loved reading about that could speak three languages. And a lot of times, folks think that the enslaved, you know, weren't educated, or they didn't have skills other just being in agriculture, but they were just varied people who had lives and being brought back to prominence with their names being in this collection.

Anyone can access the database at home and for free. All you need is just a free Ancestry account and get to searching.** This is a random sample: 

* You can listen to the whole thing here (4 minutes). The transcript is available here.
**This collection is called U.S.,™ Auctions of Enslaved People and Bounties on Freedom Seekers Index, pre-1880
© 2024 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.

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