So what is it like to document my family’s slaves?
First of all, there isn’t a lot of information. There is a will… and an image of that handwritten will is online at Ancestry.com. I can see where I got my handwriting abilities from…particularly the tendency to start out reasonably neat and go down hill the more I write.
My first step was to transcribe the will. It took forever! And then something went wrong when I tried to save it and I had to start all over again. I can’t say I got it all right, but I did the best I could to keep the spellings, even the ones that were obviously wrong, exactly as I read them.
I highlighted all the names in the will and then went to work creating profiles for everyone that didn’t have one. In this case, most of the family as well as the slaves they inherited.
One of the daughters was named Tahpenes. I had to do some research to figure out who she was. Once I did the handwriting didn’t look quite as bad.
One name that really stuck out though was Lucy. It seemed like everyone inherited a slave named Lucy – which got confusing really fast. Was one Lucy super busy running from house to house? Or was there a Lucy Senior and a Lucy Junior? There are no ages, dates, or descriptions to help sort out all the women named Lucy.
So the process goes something like this… you give them the name from the owner and the birth date from the will. I messed up the folks from the first day as the example I was following was a slave owner named Daniel – which I thought was his first name. So I mistakenly called a bunch of people “John” when they should have been “Bullock”.
Everyone gets the same “birth date” too, which is before 10 Sept 1799. So there is no way to tell people apart! And I’m worried that all my Lucy John profiles will get merged into one person.
My mistake with the last name helped. I discovered it about 2/3 of the way through when looking for some way to tell one Lucy from another. So two were already “Lucy John”, but the third one could be “Lucy Bullock”. These aren’t permanent names, they are just temporary until research turns up a real surname…so they don’t want us to go back and change them if we find a previous owner for example.
They do say to put the most recent owner as the current last name (like a woman’s married name). At least one Lucy went to a married daughter and so that helped too. I went from having 3 women named Lucy John with the same birth dates to having 3 individuals:
In all, there were over 40 slaves assigned new owners by this will. That’s a lot of people! Creating profiles for each one of them took a long time (compared to just reading the will) and really changes how I think about my family from the South and our relationship with Slavery. It’s not so easy to gloss over things once you start treating each person as a person and not part of a list of names.