How do you document the slaveowner in your research? Here are two ideas from my own toolbox.

Separate Trees

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.

Closing Thoughts

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?

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