30 September 2011

Unknown No Longer -- A Database of Virginia Slave Names


This database is the latest step by the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) to increase access to its varied collections relating to Virginians of African descent. Since its founding in 1831, the VHS has collected unpublished manuscripts, a collection that now numbers more than 8 million processed items.

Within these documents are numerous accounts that collectively help tell the stories of African Americans who have lived in the state over the centuries. The database seeks to lift from the obscurity of unpublished historical records as much biographical detail as remains of the enslaved Virginians named in those documents. In some cases there may only be a name on a list; in others more details survive, including family relationships, occupations, and life dates.

Unknown No Longer does not contain names that may appear in published sources at the VHS or in unpublished sources located in repositories other than the VHS. On the other hand, those whose names appear in the database need not have lived their lives solely in Virginia, for our collections contain plantation records, for example, kept by Virginians who moved to other states, taking their slaves with them. In addition, if we know that an individual named in a post-Civil War document had been enslaved before 1865, his or her name will appear in the database.

It will take years to scour the millions of documents likely to contain the names of the enslaved and so Unknown No Longer has been launched as a work in progress. With the launch there are already more than 1,500 slave names in the database.


Editor’s Note: Also check out the VHS Guide to African American Manuscripts, http://www.vahistorical.org/aamcvhs/guide_intro.htm.



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