How do you document the slaveowner in your research? Here are two ideas from my own toolbox.
1. Create separate family trees for each slaveowning family within your genealogy software. Most people never use the feature available in genealogy software to do this.
I use Rootsmagic, but every brand of family history software can do this. Just create a new file for each family. It is extremely important to keep track of the slaveowner and his family in order to trace how enslaved people were transferred through the family.
As personal property, enslaved people were bequeathed and inherited, sold and even mortgaged.
You’ll want to include the wife’s parents, since many men came into ownership of their enslaved property through their wives.
A complicating factor is that slaveowning families often married their first cousins.
Because of this, I have found it nearly impossible to keep track of these families without creating a separate tree for reference.
Having these families in separate trees allow me to print the tree and take it along with me on research trips. This proves invaluable as I research the family in other records such as probate, deed, court and taxes.
Create A New Fact
2. For enslaved people in my family tree, I create a new “fact” called Slaveowner:
You may want to use Slaveholder, or the newer term Enslaver. In Rootsmagic, each fact can include associated media.
Using this feature, I attach any will, inventory, tax, or bill of sale. In this way, all the relevant documents are accessible within my genealogy program.
I write the Slaveowner’s name in the Details tab, and there is plenty of room for Notes. The Slaveowner fact will print in narrative reports I print on my family, along with all the other facts.
I can also run a “missing fact” report in Rootsmagic, and see which people are missing this fact.
These are just a few of the many powerful ways having our research recorded in genealogy software can assist us. Lots of people still don’t use a genealogy program, they just post their tree on Ancestry.
If you are in this for the long run, you will need a genealogy program to record the mountains of data you uncover.
These practices have made slaveowner research a little more structured and organized for me. It is never easy.
Readers, tell me what ways you have created in order to track the slaveowning family within your genealogy computer program?
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
I am fairly new to your site and learn so much from your writings.
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So great to see you at the Maryland State Archives Robyn! Best of luck with your amazing research! – Rachel
Great ideas, Thank you for sharing. I have been trying to document any slave names/owners I come across while researching to help others in the daunting search. So far been posting info on one of my favorite facebook genealogy groups: Mississippi Genealogy Researchers. Was wondering how to incorporate into my own trees as I find stuff.
Thanks for the ‘fact’ tip! I have created a separate tree for my 3g grandfather’s enslaver, but haven’t yet added the ‘fact’ to his profile.
I was just curious as to how you handled it. I did not know if because he was the slave owner, if you considered him family.
This is great! Do separate tree with slave owners family deeds/wills ect !
-where or not connected with family/blood…. or just names – deeds..ect
thank you for this suggestion.,
thank you very much for this information! i recently confirmed the last (and possibly only) family who owned a set of great-grandmothers, and i have a tree for that family in Ancestry. i’ll get that tree loaded to Family Tree Maker tonight.
So, if this slaveowner is your blood relation, then how do you handle that?
Hi Carolyn! In that case, he would be added to my family tree just like everyone else. All blood relatives are in my tree.