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Age of a Slave

Determining the age of slaves before 1865 was often a challenging task due to the lack of proper birth records and documentation for enslaved individuals. Slaves were considered property and were not granted the same rights as free individuals, which included the right to have official records of their births. As a result, slave owners and traders had to rely on various methods to estimate the ages of the enslaved individuals.

Here are some methods that were commonly used to estimate the age of slaves:

1.     Physical Appearance: Slave owners and traders would often rely on the physical appearance of individuals to estimate their age. This could include looking at factors such as height, build, muscle development, and the appearance of facial hair in the case of males.

2.     Dental Examination: Some owners and traders would examine the teeth of slaves as an indicator of age. The development and condition of teeth could provide clues about a person's age, although this method was not always accurate.

3.     Experienced Observations: Slave owners who had worked with enslaved individuals for many years might develop a sense of estimating age based on their experience with other slaves and the changes they observed in the physical appearance of individuals over time.

4.     Oral History: In some cases, enslaved individuals might have had oral traditions or stories passed down through generations that included information about their approximate birth years. However, these oral histories were not always accurate or well-documented.

5.     Documents and Records: Some slave owners did keep records of the birth dates of their slaves, especially if they were concerned with keeping track of ages for labor and breeding purposes. However, such records were not common, and many slaves lacked any official documentation of their age.

6.     Census Data: In the United States, census records began including information about the ages of slaves starting in 1850. However, these records were only collected every ten years and were not always accurate, as ages could be misreported intentionally or due to lack of accurate information.

7.     Interviews and Testimonies: Abolitionists, researchers, and historians conducted interviews with former slaves after emancipation, which sometimes included discussions about their ages and life experiences. While these testimonies can provide insights, they are not always entirely reliable due to the passage of time and potential memory biases.

It's important to note that estimating the age of slaves was an imprecise process, and many enslaved individuals did not have a clear and accurate record of their ages. This lack of documentation and the dehumanizing treatment of enslaved people further compounded the challenges in accurately determining their ages.

My name is Moses Grandy: I was born in Camden County, North Carolina. I believe I am fifty-six years old. Slaves seldom know exactly how old they are: neither they nor their masters set down the time of a birth: - the slave because they are not allowed to write or read, and the masters because they only care to know what slaves belong to them.

Slave narrative of Moses Grandy.


After emancipation, newspapers played a crucial role in helping to find and locate formerly enslaved individuals in several ways:

1.     Information Dissemination: Newspapers served as a primary means of communication in many communities. They provided a platform for individuals to share information about themselves, their whereabouts, and their search for family members who had been separated due to slavery.

2.     Advertisements and Notices: Many newspapers carried advertisements and notices placed by individuals searching for their lost family members. These ads often contained detailed descriptions of the individuals being sought, including names, physical features, last known locations, and any distinguishing marks. These notices acted as a way to spread information about missing family members to a wide audience.

3.     Personal Stories and Testimonies: Newspapers occasionally published personal stories and testimonies of formerly enslaved individuals who were searching for their families. These stories helped raise awareness about the emotional toll of separation and the desire for reunification.

4.     Community Networks: Newspapers fostered connections within communities, and people often turned to them as a source of support. Readers who saw ads or stories related to missing family members might offer leads, advice, or assistance in locating loved ones.

5.     Advocacy and Activism: Some newspapers, particularly those that were abolitionist or sympathetic to the cause of formerly enslaved individuals, used their platform to advocate for reunification efforts. They highlighted the struggles faced by those searching for family members and called for public support and empathy.

6.     Legal Notices and Documentation: In addition to personal ads, newspapers also published legal notices related to property, land ownership, and other matters. These documents sometimes contained information about the transfer of land, inheritance, or other legal matters that could provide clues about family connections.

7.     Community Gatherings and Events: Newspapers often advertised events, meetings, and gatherings related to emancipation and the well-being of formerly enslaved individuals. These events could serve as opportunities for reuniting families or exchanging information.

8.     Collaboration and Networking: Newspapers facilitated connections between individuals who were engaged in similar searches. People could exchange information, strategies, and tips for locating missing family members through the newspaper's letters section or other communication channels.

9.     Documenting History: Newspapers provided a historical record of the challenges and triumphs experienced by formerly enslaved individuals as they sought to rebuild their lives and reconnect with loved ones after emancipation.

In essence, newspapers served as a vital tool for communication, collaboration, and community-building in the aftermath of emancipation. They helped to bridge the gaps created by slavery and played a significant role in reuniting families that had been torn apart.

Last Seen - Newspaper Ads      Lost Friends - Newspaper ads

Sample Newspaper Ads of formerly Enslaved and Freedmen looking for family members and friends​​​​​​

Runaway Slave Advertisements

Anti-Slavery (Collection of Distinction)

In the late 1890s, the family of William Lloyd Garrison, along with others closely involved in the anti-slavery movement, presented Boston Public Library with a major gathering of correspondence, documents, and other original material relating to the abolitionist cause from 1832 until after the American Civil War.

The Anti-Slavery Collection contains about 40,000 pieces of correspondence, broadsides, newspapers, pamphlets, books, and realia spanning a 35-year period. The major holdings consist of the papers of William Lloyd Garrison, Maria Weston Chapman and Deborah Weston, Lydia Maria Child, Amos Augustus Phelps, and Samuel May Jr.; records of the American, Massachusetts, New England, and Female Anti-Slavery Societies; and the libraries of William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, and Wendell Phillips.

Digital Commonwealth

Newspapers/ Abolitionist 

Even before the Civil War, some abolitionist newspapers ran autobiographies of formerly enslaved people. These narratives became more popular after the war, mostly in the black-owned press but sometimes in mainstream newspapers, too. They related the personal reflections of people who had persevered through the slave era

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Slave Narratives

The Slave Narratives, also known as the Federal Writers' Project Slave Narratives, are a collection of firsthand accounts and oral histories given by formerly enslaved individuals in the United States during the 1930s. These narratives were collected as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency established to provide employment to Americans during the Great Depression. The narratives are incredibly important for several reasons, including helping to locate formerly enslaved individuals, slave masters, and family members:

1.     Historical Documentation: The narratives provide a unique and authentic glimpse into the lives of enslaved individuals, capturing their personal experiences, thoughts, emotions, and perspectives. These accounts are invaluable for understanding the harsh realities of slavery and the various ways in which people coped with and resisted their circumstances.

2.     Genealogical Research: For descendants of enslaved individuals, these narratives can serve as crucial genealogical resources. They often include detailed information about family relationships, names, places, and events. This information can help trace family histories and connections that were often lost due to the disintegration of families during slavery.

3.     Locating Ancestral Connections: The narratives can help descendants of enslaved people connect with their ancestral roots by providing insights into their family history and origins. This can be particularly meaningful for individuals seeking to understand their heritage and cultural background.

4.     Identity and Empowerment: For many African Americans, the Slave Narratives have been instrumental in reclaiming a sense of identity and pride. These narratives provide evidence of the resilience, strength, and humanity of their ancestors, countering historical narratives that often dehumanized enslaved individuals.

5.     Legal and Reparations Efforts: The narratives have been used as historical evidence in legal cases seeking reparations for the descendants of enslaved individuals. They provide firsthand accounts of the atrocities and injustices faced by enslaved people, supporting efforts to address historical wrongs.

6.     Educational and Academic Purposes: The narratives offer valuable primary source material for researchers, historians, and educators studying the history of slavery, race relations, and African American culture. They allow for a deeper understanding of the complexities of the institution of slavery and its lasting impacts.

7.     Preservation of Oral History: Many of the narratives were collected directly from individuals who had lived through slavery. By recording their stories, the narratives preserved a significant part of American history that might have otherwise been lost as these individuals passed away.

8.     Cultural Heritage: The narratives contribute to the preservation and celebration of African American culture, language, and traditions. They highlight the ways in which enslaved individuals maintained their cultural practices despite the oppressive conditions of slavery.

In summary, the Slave Narratives are invaluable resources that provide insight into the lives of formerly enslaved individuals and their families. They contribute to historical understanding, genealogical research, identity empowerment, legal efforts, education, and the preservation of cultural heritage. These narratives shed light on a dark period of American history and help bridge the gap between the past and present, fostering a deeper appreciation for the struggles and contributions of those who endured slavery.

Slave Narratives - Volume 1-17

Vol. 1, Alabama - 129 Narratives (With Photos)

Vol. 2, Arkansas - 677 Narratives (With Photos)

Vol. 3, Florida - 67 Narratives

Anderson-Wilson (with combined interviews of others) 

Vol. 4, Georgia - 184 Narratives

Vol. 5, Indiana - 62 Narratives (With Photos)

Vol. 6, Kansas - 3 Narratives

Vol. 7, Kentucky - 34 Narratives

Vol. 8, Maryland - 22 Narratives

Vol. 9, Mississippi - 26 Narratives

  • Allen-Young - * Photos of Mollie Williams, Tom Wilson

Vol. 10, Missouri - 84 Narratives

  • Abbot-Younger Photos of Sarah Frances Shaw Graves (Aunt Sally) Drucilla and Richard Martin

Vol. 11, North Carolina - 176 Narratives (With Photos)

Vol. 12, Ohio - 32 Narratives (With Photos)

Vol. 13, Oklahoma - 75 Narratives

  • Adams-Young * Photos of Lucinda Davis, Anthony Dawson, Katie Rowe, Charley Williams 

Vol. 14, South Carolina - 274 Narratives

Vol. 15, Tennessee - 26 Narratives

Vol. 16, Texas - 308 Narratives (With Photos)

Vol. 17, Virginia - 15 Narratives

Additional Slave Narratives (Suggested by Renate Yarborough Sanders)

About Renate Yarborough Sanders

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Slavery Inventory Database


U.S. Wills and Probates -

Wills and probate records are invaluable resources for understanding the lives of formerly enslaved individuals, slave masters, family members, and the living conditions and hardships faced by enslaved people. These documents provide unique insights into the complex relationships, legal dynamics, and economic aspects of slavery in the past. Here's why they are so important for reconstructing this history:

1.     Documentation of Ownership and Relationships: Wills and probate records often contain detailed information about enslaved individuals, including their names, ages, and sometimes familial relationships. These records can help researchers trace the movement of enslaved people across generations and geographical locations. They shed light on the intricate networks of relationships within slaveholding families and can offer clues about family structures and connections that were often intentionally disrupted due to the horrors of slavery.

2.     Property and Inheritance: Enslaved people were often treated as property in the eyes of the law, and as such, they were frequently included in wills and inheritance documents. These records can reveal how enslaved individuals were transferred from one owner to another upon the death of a slaveholder. This information helps to reconstruct the history of ownership and track the journeys of enslaved people as they were bought, sold, or inherited by different individuals.

3.     Insights into Daily Life: Wills and probate records sometimes provide glimpses into the living conditions, work assignments, and daily lives of enslaved individuals. Information about the provision of food, clothing, medical care, and other aspects of their material well-being can be found in these documents. Additionally, records might contain notes about specific skills or trades that enslaved people were engaged in, giving us insight into the type of labor they performed.

4.     Testimonies of Resistance: In some cases, wills and probate records can contain evidence of resistance and autonomy among enslaved individuals. This might include requests for freedom, negotiations for better conditions, or even instances where enslaved individuals were bequeathed their freedom in the wills of slaveholders.

5.     Understanding the Slaveholders: These records not only provide information about the enslaved but also shed light on the lives and attitudes of slaveholders. Details about their economic circumstances, personal relationships, and social standing can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the institution of slavery and the roles played by different segments of society.

6.     Contextualizing History: Wills and probate records place the experiences of enslaved individuals and their families within a broader historical context. They help to reveal the legal and economic structures that perpetuated slavery, contributing to a deeper understanding of its lasting impacts on societies and individuals.

7.     Reparative Justice: Studying these records can support efforts towards reparative justice, as they can be used to trace the descendants of enslaved people and connect them to their ancestral histories. These records may provide crucial evidence for descendants seeking reparations or attempting to reconnect with their past.

In essence, wills and probate records serve as windows into the past, offering insights into the lives, relationships, and struggles of formerly enslaved individuals and the society that perpetuated their oppression. By examining these documents, historians and researchers can work to uncover and acknowledge the full scope of the horrors faced by enslaved people while also illuminating stories of resilience, resistance, and humanity.

View U.S. Wills and Probates by states -


The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen's Bureau, was a significant government agency established during the Reconstruction period in the United States. It played a crucial role in assisting formerly enslaved individuals, helping to locate family members who had been separated due to slavery, and addressing the challenges faced by both freedpeople and abandoned lands. Here's why the Freedmen's Bureau was so important in these aspects:

1.     Assistance to Formerly Enslaved Individuals: After the Civil War, millions of formerly enslaved individuals faced immense challenges as they transitioned from bondage to freedom. Many were without education, employment, housing, and basic resources. The Freedmen's Bureau was created to provide immediate relief, including food, clothing, and medical care, to help these individuals rebuild their lives.

2.     Locating Family Members: Slavery often resulted in the forced separation of families as members were bought, sold, or relocated. The Freedmen's Bureau recognized the importance of reuniting families torn apart by slavery. It established efforts to help locate and reunite family members who had been separated, providing a means for communication and assistance in finding loved ones.

3.     Legal Assistance and Education: The Bureau recognized that education and legal aid were crucial for the newly freed individuals to secure their rights and improve their circumstances. It established schools for African Americans, providing education that had been denied to them during slavery. Additionally, the Bureau offered legal assistance to help freedpeople navigate complex legal issues, such as land ownership and labor contracts.

4.     Employment and Labor: The transition from slavery to freedom was particularly challenging in terms of employment. The Freedmen's Bureau helped to negotiate labor contracts between freedpeople and employers, ensuring fair wages and reasonable working conditions. This support aimed to prevent the exploitation of newly freed individuals as they entered the workforce.

5.     Land Redistribution and Abandoned Lands: The Bureau was also tasked with managing abandoned and confiscated lands, including those left behind by plantation owners who supported the Confederacy. The goal was to provide land and resources to formerly enslaved individuals, allowing them to become self-sufficient. However, this aspect of the Bureau's mission faced significant challenges and was not fully realized.

6.     Civil Rights Advocacy: The Freedmen's Bureau played a role in advocating for the civil rights of newly freed individuals. It sought to protect their rights, including their right to make contracts, testify in court, and enjoy other legal privileges.

While the Freedmen's Bureau was instrumental in providing much-needed support to formerly enslaved individuals and addressing various challenges, its effectiveness was hampered by limited resources, opposition from certain groups, and political changes over time. Despite its limitations, the Bureau's efforts marked an important step in the United States' attempts to address the injustices of slavery and support the transition of millions from enslavement to freedom.

FREEDMAN's Saving and Trust Company 

The Freedman's Bank Records are incredibly important historical documents that provide valuable information for locating formerly enslaved individuals, their families, and even slave masters. These records play a crucial role in understanding and tracing the history of African Americans during the post-Civil War period in the United States. Here's why they are significant:

1.     Post-Emancipation Transition: The Freedman's Bank was established in 1865 by the U.S. government to help newly emancipated African Americans and their families achieve economic stability and financial independence. The bank collected detailed information about its clients, including their names, ages, birthplaces, family members, former slave owners, and more. These records provide a snapshot of the lives of formerly enslaved individuals as they navigated the challenges of a new life.

2.     Reconnection of Families: Many families were separated during slavery due to forced labor practices and sales. The Freedman's Bank Records often include information about family members who were separated during slavery. By examining these records, descendants can sometimes locate missing family connections, enabling a better understanding of their heritage and reconnection with long-lost relatives.

3.     Historical Context: These records offer insights into the social and economic conditions of the time. They document the struggles and achievements of newly freed individuals as they sought education, employment, and economic stability. This information contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by African Americans during Reconstruction and beyond.

4.     Genealogical Research: The records are a valuable resource for genealogists and historians interested in tracing family histories and exploring the roots of African American communities. The detailed information contained in these records can help individuals build family trees and understand their ancestry more accurately.

5.     Slave Master Connections: The records often contain information about the former slave owners of individuals. While this information can be challenging to confront due to the history of slavery, it can also provide a link to the past and help descendants understand their origins more fully. Additionally, it might lead to the discovery of additional historical documents related to the slave owners and their estates.

6.     Legal and Identity Documentation: In the aftermath of emancipation, having official documentation of one's identity and familial relationships became crucial. The Freedman's Bank Records provided a form of identification for many individuals who previously had no official records. This documentation helped establish legal identities and was often used for various purposes, including land ownership and voting rights.

7.     Cultural and Social Significance: The records hold cultural and emotional significance for African American communities. They are a tangible link to the experiences of their ancestors, allowing for a better understanding of the struggles and triumphs that shaped their heritage.

In summary, the Freedman's Bank Records are an invaluable resource for reconstructing the lives of formerly enslaved individuals and their families, understanding their history, and making connections across generations. They provide a unique window into the challenges and achievements of African Americans during a pivotal period in American history and are an essential tool for genealogical research, historical scholarship, and personal identity exploration.

Freedman's Saving and Trust Company​  

Southern Claims Commission records

Claims were made to the Southern Claims Commission based on losses in the twelve states in rebellion at the beginning of the Civil War. Those states were: 

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana 
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina

  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia (was part of Virginia when it seceded from the Union)

The Southern Claims Commission (SCC) records are crucial historical documents that play a significant role in helping to locate formerly enslaved individuals, slave masters, and family members. The SCC was a unique federal agency established in 1871 to review and process claims for reimbursement of property losses suffered by Southern Unionists during the American Civil War. These records hold immense value for understanding the lives and relationships of formerly enslaved individuals and their families for several reasons:

1.     Documentation of Enslaved Individuals: The SCC records often include detailed information about formerly enslaved individuals who were seeking compensation for property losses during the Civil War. Enslaved individuals were sometimes listed by name, age, physical descriptions, and even skills. This information can help researchers and descendants trace their ancestral connections and gather details about their lives.

2.     Slave Masters and Owners: The SCC records also contain information about the slave masters and owners who filed claims for property losses. These records can help researchers identify individuals who held enslaved people, providing critical context for understanding the dynamics of slavery and its aftermath. This information can also assist in identifying potential family connections between descendants of the formerly enslaved and descendants of slave owners.

3.     Family Relationships: The SCC records might reveal information about family relationships within the enslaved community and between enslaved individuals and their owners. These records might include references to family members who were separated due to the slave trade or other circumstances. By studying these records, researchers and descendants can gain insights into family connections and histories that were disrupted by slavery.

4.     Geographical Context: The SCC records often provide details about the geographic locations where enslaved individuals and their owners lived. This information can help descendants and researchers understand the specific areas where their ancestors were enslaved or where their family members lived, aiding in the process of tracing their roots.

5.     Legal Testimonies: In order to support their claims for compensation, individuals often had to provide testimonies or affidavits that included personal details about their experiences during the Civil War and the antebellum period. These testimonies can provide firsthand accounts of life under slavery, interactions between enslaved individuals and slave masters, and the challenges faced during the war and its aftermath.

6.     Contextualizing History: The SCC records contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the social and economic effects of the Civil War on both the enslaved and their owners. By examining these records, historians and researchers can uncover previously untold stories and shed light on the complexities of life during this tumultuous period.

7.     Aiding Genealogical Research: The SCC records are invaluable resources for individuals conducting genealogical research, as they can help fill gaps in family histories, provide names and details of ancestors, and assist in connecting with living descendants of the formerly enslaved and slave owners.

In summary, the Southern Claims Commission records serve as a rich source of information that helps to reconstruct the lives, relationships, and histories of formerly enslaved individuals, slave masters, and their families. These records contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of slavery and the Civil War on American society and provide a way for descendants to connect with their roots and heritage.

National Archives                     

Questions to be answered by claimants under oath

Initial Questions​        80 Standing Interrogatories

Where to Find the Southern Claims Commission Records

The case files are found in different record groups, depending on the SCC's decision in the case. The index indicates which decision was issued for each case.

National Archives

Barred claims are claims that were not submitted to the SCC by the deadline (March 3, 1873) and so were not considered. They are indicated in M87 by the word “Barred.”

Case files documenting these claims are found in Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, and have been reproduced as Microfiche Publication M1407Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission, 1871–1880, fiches 4273–4829. The case files are arranged alphabetically by the claimant's surname.

Disallowed claims are claims that the U.S. House of Representatives denied, usually on the recommendation of the SCC. They are indicated in M87 as "Disallowed" or “Dismissed."

Case files documenting these claims are found in Record Group 233Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, and have been reproduced as Microfiche Publication M1407Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission, 1871–1880, fiches 5–4272. The case files are arranged by report number and thereunder by office number.

Many Southern Unionists were dissatisfied with the claims process and with the SCC's decision in their cases. Their frustration eventually led Congress to pass the Bowman Act of 1883 and the Tucker Act of 1887. Under these acts, Congress could reconsider any of the claims previously handled by the SCC and transfer them to the U.S. Court of Claims for further review and recommendation.

The result is that some case files for disallowed and barred SCC claims are part of Record Group 123, Records of the U.S. Court of Claims, and Record Group 205, Records of the Court of Claims Section (Justice). They are indicated in M87 as “C. of C.”

These case files can be found in two different series:

  • "Congressional Jurisdiction Case Files, 1884–1943" (Entry PI-58 22 in Record Group 123; National Archives Identifier 2734730)
  • "Congressional Jurisdiction Case Files, 1884–1944" (Entry PI-47 45 in Record Group 205; National Archives Identifier 3432865)

Both of these series are arranged by the U.S. Court of Claims case file number. Researchers should consult Microfilm Publication M2007, U.S. Court of Claims Docket Cards for Congressional Case Files, 1884–1937, to identify the case file number.

Please note that there can be numerous gaps in these series of records.

Allowed claims are claims that the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve, usually on the SCC's recommendation, and for which the claimant received payment, in whole or in part, from the U.S. Treasury Department. They are indicated in M87 by the amount of money approved for payment.

These case files are found in the series, “Settled Case Files for Claims Approved by the Southern Claims Commission, 1871–1880” (Entry A1-732; National Archives Identifier 566157), which is part of Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. The case files are arranged alphabetically by state, thereunder by county, and thereunder by name of claimant. 

Allowed claim files are available online through  (database title: “Southern Claims”).  also features allowed claim files for Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, and Virginia (database title: “U.S., Southern Claims Commission Allowed Claims, 1871–1880”). These claim files were originally reproduced as microfilm:

Compensated Emancipation Records

To view the profiles of the above slave owners click on their image.

The Compensated Emancipation Records are a historically significant collection of documents that provide crucial information for locating formerly enslaved individuals, their slave masters, and family members. These records are particularly relevant to understanding the history of emancipation and the lives of those affected by slavery.

Here's why these records are important:

1.     Documentation of Emancipation: The Compensated Emancipation Records document the process of emancipation, where enslaved individuals were legally freed. This was often tied to a compensation system where slave owners were reimbursed for their loss of property (enslaved individuals). These records provide evidence of when and where emancipation occurred, serving as a crucial historical resource.

2.     Identification and Reunion: For formerly enslaved individuals, these records can help them trace their origins and possibly reconnect with family members who were separated during slavery. Names, ages, and other personal details of both the enslaved individuals and their owners are often included in these records, facilitating the process of reuniting families.

3.     Genealogical Research: The records are invaluable for genealogists and historians who are researching family histories and reconstructing the lives of enslaved people. The information contained in these records can provide insights into ancestral lineages, migrations, and social connections that would otherwise be difficult to ascertain due to the lack of comprehensive records from the slavery era.

4.     Historical Context: These records provide concrete evidence of the economic transactions that took place during the abolition of slavery. The compensation paid to slave owners is documented, shedding light on the economic impact of emancipation and the role of various governments and institutions in facilitating the transition.

5.     Reconciliation and Justice: For descendants of enslaved individuals, these records can play a role in acknowledging the injustices of the past and seeking reconciliation. By uncovering and sharing the stories of those who were enslaved, society can better understand the lasting impact of slavery and work toward addressing historical inequalities.

6.     Preservation of Memory: The Compensated Emancipation Records are part of the collective memory of a critical period in history. Preserving and studying these records helps ensure that the experiences of enslaved individuals and their journey toward freedom are not forgotten.

7.     Legal Documentation: The records serve as official legal documentation of the emancipation process. They can be used for legal purposes, including claims for reparations or other forms of redress related to historical injustices.

Overall, the Compensated Emancipation Records offer a window into the past, helping to illuminate the lives of those who endured slavery and the complex process of transitioning to freedom. They offer insight into the personal stories of formerly enslaved individuals, provide a basis for historical research and analysis, and contribute to discussions about justice, reconciliation, and the ongoing impact of slavery on contemporary society.

View documents: The following image serves as an example of a claim form that may be found within the compiled service records:


Where to Find Compensated Emancipation Records M520

Civil War Washington


Index of Slave Compensation Claims by Former Slave Owner

This information was provided by Shelby Cowan:

See Claims

Slave Owners and Emancipation Records

Slave Owners and Emancipation Records play a crucial role in helping to locate formerly enslaved individuals, understand family connections, and shed light on the living conditions and hardships they endured. Here's why these records are so important:

1.     Historical Documentation: Slave Owners and Emancipation Records provide invaluable historical documentation of a dark period in human history. They offer primary source information about the institution of slavery, the people involved, and the dynamics of power during that time.

2.     Tracing Ancestry and Family Connections: For descendants of enslaved individuals, these records are often the only link to their ancestors and the history of their families. Slave Owners and Emancipation Records can help people trace their genealogy, uncover family connections, and gain a deeper understanding of their heritage.

3.     Locating Previously Enslaved Individuals: These records are essential for researchers and individuals seeking to locate information about formerly enslaved people. These documents may contain names, ages, physical descriptions, and details about where individuals were held in bondage. This information can help fill gaps in family histories and enable descendants to reconnect with their roots.

4.     Understanding Living Conditions and Horrors of Slavery: Slave Owners and Emancipation Records often provide insights into the brutal and dehumanizing conditions that enslaved people endured. They may contain accounts of abuse, testimonies of survivors, and descriptions of daily life on plantations. This information is crucial for acknowledging the atrocities of slavery and ensuring that history is accurately represented.

5.     Uncovering Social and Economic Structures: These records shed light on the social and economic structures that supported slavery. They reveal the identities of slave owners, the number of enslaved people they owned, and the economic transactions related to buying and selling enslaved individuals. This information helps us understand how slavery was intertwined with the broader society and economy.

6.     Challenging Historical Narratives: Slave Owners and Emancipation Records can challenge distorted historical narratives that have downplayed the extent of slavery's impact and the agency of enslaved individuals. These records provide evidence that counters attempts to whitewash or romanticize the history of slavery.

7.     Informing Reparations and Reconciliation Efforts: For societies grappling with the legacies of slavery, these records can provide evidence for discussions around reparations, restorative justice, and reconciliation. They serve as concrete evidence of the wrongs committed against enslaved people and their descendants.

In essence, Slave Owners and Emancipation Records are essential tools for acknowledging the historical realities of slavery, honoring the experiences of those who suffered under it, and fostering a more accurate understanding of our shared history. They help ensure that the stories of enslaved individuals are not forgotten and contribute to broader conversations about social justice, equality, and human rights.

Military Pension Files

Union and Confederate pension files are important historical records that can provide valuable insights into the lives of formerly enslaved individuals, their families, and the conditions they faced during and after slavery. These pension files were primarily created to provide financial assistance to veterans of the American Civil War and their families. However, they contain a wealth of information that can help researchers, historians, and descendants better understand the experiences of enslaved people, their relationships with slave masters, and the living conditions they endured.

Here's why these pension files are crucial for locating formerly enslaved individuals, understanding their experiences, and learning about the horrors of slavery:

1.     Documentation of Relationships: Many pension files contain personal narratives, letters, and affidavits from formerly enslaved individuals. These documents often detail relationships between enslaved individuals, slave masters, and their families. By analyzing these accounts, researchers can trace family connections, uncover hidden stories, and gain insights into the dynamics of power and kinship within slave communities.

2.     Living Conditions and Treatment: Some pension files include accounts of the living conditions and treatment of enslaved people. Formerly enslaved individuals might describe the hardships, abuse, and atrocities they experienced, shedding light on the brutalities of slavery. These firsthand accounts provide a human perspective on the day-to-day life of enslaved people that is often missing from traditional historical records.

3.     Geographical Information: Pension files can also provide geographical information that helps locate specific plantations, towns, or regions where formerly enslaved individuals lived. This information can be used to connect descendants with their ancestral homes, understand migration patterns, and explore the broader historical context of the communities where slavery existed.

4.     Post-Emancipation Experiences: After emancipation, some formerly enslaved individuals sought assistance from the government, leading them to apply for pensions based on their service in the Union Army or other qualifying roles. These applications might include details about their lives after slavery, including their efforts to build new lives, secure work, and create communities.

5.     Reconstructing Family Histories: For descendants of enslaved individuals, these pension files can be invaluable in reconstructing their family histories and genealogies. The information contained in the files can help bridge the gap between the often incomplete and fragmented records available for enslaved individuals.

6.     Historical Context and Validation: The stories and experiences documented in pension files can validate oral histories and traditions that have been passed down through generations. They offer a tangible link to the past that can help validate the struggles, triumphs, and traumas of descendants and formerly enslaved individuals.

7.     Educational and Commemorative Purposes: Access to pension files can promote a deeper understanding of American history, particularly the complex legacy of slavery and its enduring impact. They contribute to educational efforts aimed at fostering empathy, understanding, and social change.

Overall, Union and Confederate pension files serve as important historical resources that contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of formerly enslaved individuals, the relationships they had with their masters, the conditions they endured, and the resilience they exhibited in the face of unimaginable challenges.

Pension Files

Mississippi Slave Certificates 1858-1861

Bill of Sales of Negro Slaves - FamilySearch

What are Chancery Records?

Chancery Records, particularly in the context of the United States and other countries with a history of slavery, are important historical documents that can be invaluable for locating formerly enslaved individuals, slave masters, and family members. These records provide a wealth of information that can help piece together the stories of those who were directly affected by slavery and its aftermath. Here's why Chancery Records are so important:

1.     Legal Documentation: Chancery Records refer to court documents and proceedings from chancery courts, which dealt with equity and fairness issues. These records often include wills, estate settlements, property disputes, and lawsuits related to enslaved individuals. Legal documents are crucial for tracing the ownership and movements of enslaved people, as well as their interactions with their owners or other parties.

2.     Ownership and Genealogy: Chancery Records can contain information about the names, ages, familial relationships, and even physical descriptions of enslaved individuals. For genealogical research, these records can provide key details that enable researchers to establish connections between enslaved people, their owners, and their descendants.

3.     Manumission and Emancipation: Chancery Records may include cases related to manumission (the act of setting slaves free) and emancipation (the legal process of ending slavery). These records often reveal the reasons behind an individual's freedom and provide insights into the lives of the formerly enslaved after they gained their freedom.

4.     Property Transactions: Enslaved individuals were often treated as property, and their ownership could change due to various factors such as inheritance, sales, or disputes. Chancery Records can document these transactions, shedding light on the movement of enslaved people and potential changes in ownership.

5.     Historical Context: Chancery Records offer a unique perspective on the socio-economic conditions of the time, revealing the complexities of relationships between enslaved individuals and their owners. These records provide context for understanding the dynamics of power, oppression, and resistance that characterized the institution of slavery.

6.     Reconciliation and Healing: For descendants of formerly enslaved individuals, Chancery Records can help them reconnect with their heritage and uncover their ancestral roots. These records play a significant role in addressing historical injustices, fostering reconciliation, and promoting a deeper understanding of the impact of slavery.

7.     Academic and Social Research: Chancery Records are essential resources for researchers, historians, genealogists, and scholars studying the history of slavery and its aftermath. They contribute to a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the experiences of enslaved people and their descendants.

8.     Preservation of History: Chancery Records are a part of the historical record that must be preserved for future generations. They provide primary source material that enriches our understanding of a complex and often painful period in history.

In summary, Chancery Records are vital for locating the formerly enslaved, slave masters, and family members because they offer a window into the past, allowing us to reconstruct and comprehend the lives and experiences of those who were directly impacted by slavery. These records are invaluable for historical research, reconciliation efforts, genealogical investigations, and creating a more complete narrative of our shared history.

​What are Slave Deeds?

Slave deeds, also known as slave sale documents or bills of sale for enslaved individuals, were legal contracts used during the era of American slavery to transfer ownership of enslaved people from one person or entity to another. These documents were an integral part of the slave trade and the institution of slavery itself. They recorded the sale, purchase, and transfer of enslaved individuals as if they were mere property, stripping them of their humanity and agency.

Slave deeds typically included details such as the names of the buyer and seller, the names and descriptions of the enslaved individuals being sold (often including age, gender, physical attributes), the terms of the sale, and the amount of money exchanged. These documents were legally binding, reinforcing the notion that enslaved people were considered chattel property that could be bought and sold like any other commodity.

​Slave deeds were used for various purposes, including:

1.     Sales and Auctions: Enslaved individuals were frequently bought and sold through public auctions, private sales, or direct trades between slaveholders. Slave deeds documented these transactions, helping to maintain records of ownership and property rights.

2.     Inheritance: When slaveholders passed away, their enslaved individuals could be included in their estates and distributed among heirs according to wills and inheritance laws. Slave deeds were used to transfer ownership from the deceased to their heirs.

3.     Collateral for Loans: Enslaved people were often used as collateral for loans. Slaveholders could use their human property as security for borrowing money, and in case of default, the enslaved individuals could be seized and sold to repay the debt.

4.     Property Tax Assessment: In some areas, enslaved individuals were assessed for property tax purposes. Slave deeds were used to determine the value of the enslaved people owned by a particular individual, which affected the tax liability.

5.     Insurance Claims: In certain cases, slaveholders could insure their enslaved individuals against loss due to death, illness, or injury. Slave deeds might be used to establish the value of the enslaved person for insurance claims.

It's important to note that these deeds are not just historical artifacts; they reflect the brutal reality of the dehumanizing treatment of enslaved individuals and the systemic exploitation that characterized the institution of slavery. The legacy of slavery continues to have profound effects on American society, culture, and racial dynamics.

While it's essential to recognize that slavery was a deeply unethical and immoral institution that caused immeasurable suffering to millions of people, it's possible to explore historical perspectives on why slave owners considered these deeds important within the context of their time.

1.    Property Rights and Economic Considerations: In societies where slavery was legal, enslaved individuals were treated as property, not as human beings with rights. Slave owners regarded slaves as valuable economic assets that contributed to their wealth and productivity that generated wealth through labor-intensive activities like agriculture and manual labor.Slave deeds served as legal documents that established ownership and ensured the enforceability of property rights. These documents were vital for maintaining clear lines of ownership and for legitimizing the institution of slavery within the legal framework of the time.

2.    Wealth Accumulation: Enslaved labor was a significant driver of economic growth in many societies. Slave owners sought to maximize their profits by acquiring and trading enslaved individuals. Slave deeds facilitated the buying and selling of enslaved people, allowing slave owners to accumulate wealth and expand their holdings. These documents were integral to the economic transactions that supported the slave-based economy. 

3.    Social Status and Prestige: In some societies, owning slaves was associated with social status and prestige. Slave owners often flaunted their ownership as a sign of their wealth and influence. Possessing slave deeds could serve as evidence of one's ability to acquire and manage valuable property, thereby bolstering their social standing within their community.

4.    Family and Inheritance: Just as property could be inherited, enslaved individuals were often passed down through generations within families. Slave deeds were used to formalize the transfer of ownership from one generation to the next. They played a role in ensuring the continuity of family wealth, which included enslaved individuals, as inheritances were allocated among heirs.

5.     Labor Force: Enslaved labor was essential for large-scale agricultural and industrial production in societies that practiced slavery. Slave owners relied on this forced labor to maintain and expand their economic activities.

6.     Control and AuthorityOwning slaves gave individuals significant control and authority over their lives. Slave owners exerted control over the daily lives, movements, work, and even the families of enslaved individuals. This control was seen as a means of maintaining social order and preserving the status quo.

7.    Cultural and Ideological Justification: Some slave owners used legal documents like slave deeds to justify their actions within the prevailing societal norms and ideologies of the time. These documents were part of the apparatus that upheld the racist and dehumanizing beliefs that underpinned slavery.

It's crucial to recognize that these reasons were rooted in an unjust and morally indefensible system. Enslaved individuals were denied their basic human rights, subjected to physical and psychological abuse, and forced to live in dehumanizing conditions. The importance of slave deeds to slave owners should not be interpreted as a validation of the institution of slavery but rather as a reflection of the deeply ingrained inequality and exploitation that characterized that era. Slavery was a grave violation of human rights and inflicted immeasurable suffering on millions of people. Recognizing this history and its impact is essential for promoting understanding, empathy, and justice in today's world.

Slave Deeds -

No Land -- Only Slaves (Slave Deeds)

​This series of books which contains abstracted documents from Deed Records found in County and Parish courthouses. The books include more than just a simple property transactions. Deed records can also contain descriptions of slaves, birth names and dates of slaves, legal actions brought against bad slaveholders, emancipations, and even documents providing freedom.

Note:   Deed Records in this series are from multiple states, not just Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas.




No Land -- Only Slaves 19 Volumes

Slave Ships and Manifest

A Slave Ship Manifest, also known as a slave ship cargo manifest or a slave ship record, is a historical document that provides detailed information about the enslaved individuals who were transported aboard a slave ship during the transatlantic slave trade. These manifests were kept by the captains and crew members of the slave ships and documented various details about each enslaved person, including their names (if available), ages, genders, physical conditions, and sometimes their origins.

These manifests are incredibly important for people researching their enslaved ancestors for several reasons:

1.     Historical Documentation: Slave ship manifests are primary source documents that provide a direct link to the historical realities of the transatlantic slave trade. They offer concrete evidence of the individuals who were forcibly taken from their homes and transported as part of this brutal trade.

2.     Genealogical Research: For descendants of enslaved individuals, tracing their family history can be challenging due to the lack of comprehensive records. Slave ship manifests provide a starting point for genealogical research, potentially offering the names and other details of ancestors that can be used to build family trees and trace lineage.

3.     Personal Connection: Many people feel a strong desire to connect with their ancestral heritage and learn about their roots. Slave ship manifests offer a glimpse into the lives of their enslaved ancestors, allowing for a more personal and emotional connection to their history.

4.     Understanding the Experience: By examining these manifests, researchers can gain insights into the conditions and experiences endured by enslaved individuals during their journeys. This includes details about the number of people on board, the cramped and unsanitary conditions, and the various challenges they faced during the voyage.

5.     Advocacy and Education: Slave ship manifests serve as concrete evidence of the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. They are valuable tools for advocating against modern-day slavery, raising awareness about historical injustices, and promoting education about the transatlantic slave trade's impact on individuals and societies.

6.     Preservation of History: Slave ship manifests contribute to preserving and sharing the history of the transatlantic slave trade, ensuring that future generations have access to accurate information about this dark period in human history.

It's worth noting that while slave ship manifests are important resources, they are not always complete or accurate. Many enslaved individuals were treated as commodities rather than individuals, and records may have been intentionally manipulated or lost over time. Nonetheless, these documents play a crucial role in helping people piece together their ancestral stories and connect with their heritage.

Register of Free Negroes

The Register of Free Negroes refers to historical records kept in some American states during the time of slavery. These registers were typically created to document individuals of African descent who were not enslaved but were considered "free people of color." The purpose of these registers was to keep track of the free black population, as laws and regulations surrounding the status of free black people varied from state to state and over time.

The information listed on a Register of Free Negroes could include:

The information listed on a Register of Free Negroes could include:

1.     Name: The individual's name would be recorded, allowing officials to identify and track them.

2.     Physical Description: Details such as age, height, build, complexion, and distinguishing features could be included.

3.     Birthplace: Some registers might list the birthplace or birth state of the individual, providing insights into their origin.

4.     Parentage: Occasionally, the names of the individual's parents might be listed.

5.     Date of Emancipation or Freedom: In many cases, the register would indicate when the individual was freed or otherwise obtained their freedom. This could include the date of manumission (formal legal emancipation) or other circumstances that led to their freedom.

6.     Owner or Emancipator Information: The name of the individual's former owner or the person who emancipated them might be recorded. This could provide insight into the circumstances of their freedom.

7.     Residence: The individual's place of residence or address might be included, aiding authorities in keeping track of their movements.

8.     Occupation: Some registers noted the individual's occupation, which could be helpful for both record-keeping and taxation purposes.

9.     Family Members: Registers might list family members who were also free people of color.

10.  Documentation of Freedom: In some cases, the register might include details about the documentation or legal processes that established the individual's free status.

11.  Signatures or Marks: If the individual was literate, their signature might be included. Otherwise, they might have made a mark to indicate their identity.

12.  Witnesses or Officials: The names of witnesses or officials involved in the registration process might also be recorded.

It’s important to note that the information contained in these registers varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and changed over time. The availability and extent of records might also be influenced by factors such as local laws, administrative practices, and the preservation of historical documents. As for whether the register would explicitly detail how and when enslaved individuals were freed, the level of detail can vary. Some registers might provide information about manumissions or other legal processes leading to freedom, while others might simply note the individuals' free status without delving into the specifics of their emancipation. These registers were established within a context of racial discrimination and segregation, and their existence highlighted the deeply entrenched social and legal distinctions between individuals of different racial backgrounds during the era of slavery and its aftermath. The specifics of the requirements and the treatment of free individuals varied widely based on local laws, customs, and prevailing attitudes towards race and slavery.

The specific requirements for being entered on the Register of Free Negroes​

1.     Proof of Freedom: In order to be listed on the Register of Free Negroes, an individual had to provide legal documentation or evidence proving their status as a free person of African descent. This could include documents such asa deed of gift,​ manumission papers (official documents granting freedom to a previously enslaved person), certificates of freedom, or court orders, or other legal documents.

2.     Verification Process: Most jurisdictions required some form of verification process to ensure that individuals claiming to be free were indeed not enslaved. This could involve appearing before a local magistrate or court to present their evidence of freedom and have it reviewed and approved.

3.     Registration: Once a free person's status was verified, their name, physical description, and relevant information were recorded in the Register of Free Negroes. This register served as an official record of free individuals of African descent in that jurisdiction.

4.     Character References: Sometimes, free individuals had to provide character references or testimonials from white individuals attesting to their good behavior, morals, and trustworthiness.

5.     Physical Description: Some registers required a physical description of the individual, including details such as height, skin color, scars, and other distinguishing features.

6.     Regular Updates: In some places, free individuals were required to periodically re-register or update their information in the register to maintain their legal status as free persons.

7.     Restrictions and Regulations: While being listed in the Register of Free Negroes granted legal recognition of freedom, it often came with certain restrictions and regulations that varied from place to place. Free individuals might be subject to curfews, residency requirements, and other forms of oversight.

8.     Payment: In some cases, a fee might have been required to register as a free person of color. This fee varied depending on the jurisdiction and time period. This fee was not meant to "purchase" freedom, but rather to cover administrative costs associated with the registration process.

9.     Protection from Slavery: Being entered on the Register of Free Negroes offered some level of protection against being illegally enslaved. It provided evidence of their free status, which could help prevent them from being wrongfully enslaved. However, despite being registered as free, African Americans still faced significant challenges and discrimination, and their freedom was not always guaranteed in practice.

10.  Risk of Enslavement: While being entered on the Register of Free Negroes provided a degree of legal protection, it didn't necessarily safeguard against all potential threats. There were instances where free individuals were still captured and sold into slavery, either due to fraudulent claims or lax enforcement of laws protecting free individuals of African descent. The complexities of the legal system and the widespread racism of the time meant that even registered free individuals could face danger.

Even though these individuals were free, their rights were still heavily restricted compared to white citizens. They often faced legal and social discrimination, including limitations on where they could live, work, and travel. Additionally, there were cases where even free individuals of color were wrongly captured and sold into slavery due to the deeply ingrained racial biases of the time. It highlights the extent to which race-based oppression was enforced, even against those who had managed to gain their freedom.

Research - Free Negroes

Records of Enslaved People - How to get started...


Documenting the Enslaved in Your Family Tree |

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