07 February 2017

Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks … Petitions to Courts, 1775-1867 – a Finding Aid NOT to be Missed!

Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks … Petitions to Courts, 1775-1867 – a Finding Aid NOT to be Missed!

This is a resource that has been around for quite a while and yet I find that many don’t take advantage of it!

Essentially, finding aids can provide you with tremendous data.  A detailed finding aid gives you insight into the existence of documents that have relevance to your research.  You can then take the next step and access any referenced material.

The Race & Slavery Petitions Project has had detailed finding aids online via Proquest and LexisNexis for quite a while and then subsequently a website (housed at UNC Greensboro) was created to house the information.  Interestingly, because of how the information was coded, it is sometimes easier to use the Proquest PDF documents, than the website, depending on what you seek.  Additionally, the finding aid entries and the database entries are not identical.

First, a bit of history …

Established in 1991, the Race and Slavery Petitions Project was designed to locate, collect, organize, and publish all extant legislative petitions relevant to slavery, and a selected group of county court petitions from the fifteen former slaveholding states and the District of Columbia, during the period from the American Revolution through the Civil War.

the Project has collected 17,487 petitions (legislative and county court) representing about half of the counties (606 of 1,127 in 1860) in the fifteen southern states. The following table gives the number of legislative and county court petitions in each state.

Let’s look a bit more into both of these resources …

For the online version, if I search on Wake (as in Wake County NC) having selected North Carolina and the entire time period, only 3 petitions reveal themselves – 1822 (Janet Corn), 1840 (Ephraim Conyers), and 1862 (Sally Scott).  Now, I happen to know that Simon Turner had a petition in 1790 and if I search on his name, that petition shows up.  This was all using the basic “Search the Petitions.”  

Now, there is the “Search By Name” option, meaning the names of slaves, where you can limit our search to a particular county within a state. If I just search on Wake County, I get 10 pages of results! If I check “Show only slave owners” and enter Wake and select North Carolina, then I get just over 1 page of entries, including Simon Turner.  So, when searching on slave forenames for a county, the basic “Search By Name” option works best, and when searching for a slave owner, selecting “Show only slave owners” is important.

Now, the online finding aids via Proquest are nice easily searchable PDFs where you can easily search on any term.

The above is NOT a complete list of the collection and you can find a list of the books and guides (aka finding aids) here (UNC Greensboro).

In some ways, I like the PDF documents (when available) as you can more quickly see the overall context of the petitions – who, what, when and where, which is an at least two-step process on the website.

Just a reminder that different formats for finding aids/databases each have their strengths as far as usage.

Regardless of which (or both) of these you access, any data found will probably be a gem you’ll want to add to your genealogical collection!

Which entry caught your eye as possibly having relevant to your research?

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