Theodore Roosevelt Quote (1)

With as far as my documented family tree stretches back into American history, I knew someone probably owned slaves.

It wasn’t whether or not someone owned slaves, but who did. Finding my slave holding ancestors wasn’t something that I was excited to delve into investigating. It is way more comfortable to focus on people I am proud of being related to, or to spend time filling in the details of the lives of some of my immigrant ancestors.

I have felt them calling me.

After receiving the results from my Ancestry DNA test Saturday, and learning my heritage is 100% European, I knew that I don’t have any direct line enslaved ancestors to research.

I have heard them ask for help.

Yesterday, I started looking through my boxes from Uncle Max. I knew that my paternal great, great, grandfather Stanford Ross was born in Kentucky. I opened the Ross family file to see what records and documents it contained. There were copies of wills, birth records, research notes and copies from a genealogist Max paid to research the Ross line in the early 90’s.

When you Find an Ancestor who Owned Slaves

It was difficult to read the faded copy and curling, cursive letters on the inventory and appraisal for Presley Doggett, Shelby County, Kentucky from April 1839. As I scanned the list, I saw them below the sorrel horse 70.00, and above cash 10.00.

negro slave

Slave names can be recorded in your ancestor’s dowry records, wills and probate records. Presley Doggett’s slaves were listed as his most valuable “property” after his death 27 March 1839.

Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 1870 US census, enslaved people were only documented on slave census records by a tick mark for gender and age. Slaves were dehumanized by not recording names, birth dates, marital status, or number of children and their ages like white people.

The Slave Name Roll Project allows slave names, contained in primary record genealogy documents, and in personal genealogical research materials, to be recorded and searchable for the 11 million US descendants of enslaved Americans. It assists with African American genealogy research, and helps to break through the 1870 genealogy brick wall.

When you find the names of enslaved persons in you genealogy research, you can free them. Click To Tweet

When you find the names of enslaved persons, and or descriptions in your genealogy research, you can free them. It is painful when you find an ancestor who owned slaves. It is evidence of shameful parts of America’s history, and it can be difficult to picture your relative as a slaveholder. Rather than ignore it, you can choose to do something good with the information you find.

Eight slaves of Presley Doggett, know that you are more valued than property. You are more than a dollar amount in a ledger. Your names are free though you  may not have lived long enough to experience freedom during your lifetime.

Your names are worth remembering.

Slaves of Presley Doggett









Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the Week – Every family tree has shade. Some branches are shadier than others. Cast some light. Look through any genealogy documents you may have for your ancestors. Search for any named slaves you can set free.

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