The Importance of Sharing the Slave History from your Family Trees.


About a month ago I joined a Black Ancestry Group on Facebook. You may think this is an odd thing to do considering I am not Black. I did it for a specific reason, to ask a question that had been plaguing me for a long time.  The following is the question that I finally asked about 5 days ago.

“I have had this question rolling around in my head for several years but didn’t know who I could ask about it. I have been afraid it may offend people but I have read some posts on here so I feel comfortable asking. Let me preference it with this: Unfortunately, I have several slave owners in my family tree, some dating back into the late 1600s. I have some wills that give names and locations. Would it help others if we were able to list those names and locations on our trees so their family could find them? If this were possible what would be the correct way of doing this? Thank you in advance for your answers.”

I was hoping for a little direction or maybe a few ideas as to how to share this information in a way that would benefit those who would need it. I was overwhelmed with the numerous responses I received! Here are a few of them:

“Valerie Hughes, bless you for wanting to do this….and for overcoming your fear History IS what it IS, and we’re all in it, no matter how we got here. It’s highly refreshing to have come across you, and your willingness to share your information with those that can benefit. Hey, Black folks just wanna KNOW some stuff, and for those of us who do, MUCH THANKS to you.”

” I haven’t begun to find a slave master for my ancestors so I say list the information and thank you, Valerie Hughes, for your forward-thinking. “

“You are a blessing to so many looking for slave families. I wish ALL descendants of slaves would make the wills available. Thank you, Valerie Hughes!!”

I was so incredibly humbled by the excitement and encouragement I received. I started thinking how can I help to pass this along so that others can also share what ‘slave owner/slave’ information that they may have?

A couple of the group members gave me websites so I could add the information I had found on the wills, Estate Records and the 1850 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedules to them. I have submitted 3 family records so far and I will be adding more as I am able. Then I started thinking, what else could be done? Surely I am not the only one with this vital information. I know how I feel when I come upon a brick wall in my family and I also know how I feel when I am able to break through that wall and find the information I desperately needed. It is the best feeling in the world and I think everyone should have a chance of experiencing it. So here is what I can up with:

#1) As you go through your family trees or your documents take the time to copy any ‘slave owner/slave’ information that you find. This can include any oral histories you may have.

#2) Submit them to the appropriate websites. (I will post the 2 that I have at the end of this blog)

#3) Tell others about doing this. Paying it forward is always a good thing!

#4) Contact Ancestry and Family Search and encourage them to develop a way of adding this information to our trees in a way that can be searchable.

I want to encourage everyone who reads this to take the time to do these things because in doing so we can enrich the lives of others who are also searching for their Family History!

AfriGeneas ~ Slave Data Collection

OBA Shared Legacies – Cifreo

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

54 thoughts on “The Importance of Sharing the Slave History from your Family Trees.

    1. I have had this internal struggle as well. It has been weighing on my heart for some time and I’m glad to know that others feel the same. The gift of one’s history is priceless and anything we can do to return that to others who have been robbed of theirs should be done. I believe genealogy can break down many barriers!

  1. Blessings to you Valerie…. You are shining a light for others to follow into the darkness from which we all want to heal.

  2. Thank You for your Honesty and being Upright about this sensitive subject. We simply just want to know. We have so many challenges getting this information. I even stated to people the Will & Appraisement Record to my Tree. A lot of what I ran into in SlaveOwning Family. They have this Biographical Written History account in their Counties and leave the Slavery part out. I hope Ancestry and FamilySearch do have a link where we can find these resources. It’s time we get beyond the hurt and shame and let African Americans heal properly. It’s all about the knowing and getting answers that are there, they are just hidden. Thanks again for this piece.

  3. This post is so refreshing! Thank you for stepping out and encouraging others to do the same. Just as True mentioned, we just want to know about our ancestors and this is will help privide a way for us to trace them and truly begin to heal. Thank you again. Many blessings to you!


  4. I totally agree and will be checking out the links you posted. I have recently begun putting a symbol by the name of any slave owners I have run across in my family tree. I hope it helps.

  5. Valerie, thank you for reaching out, taking the steps to share your found
    information with others. Hoping this will be fruitful to other researchers, with our challenges re African American and Enslaved research. We are very fortunate for your time and commitment.

  6. Valerie,
    I just want to applaud you again for stepping out of your comfort zone and following through on your promise (I also gave you a huge shout out on your Facebook post). Hopefully others can now understand that it may be difficult at first, but there is so much everyone can gain from sharing this information. I also discussed this topic on my guest blog last month, so I am so happy to see the collaboration moving forward!

  7. Valerie, I already thanked you on Facebook, but I just HAVE to say it, again! THANK YOU! I can only hope and pray that more descendants of slave owners will so openly share the documents and/or pictures that they have. Please continue to spread the word about how very helpful this can be to researchers. 🙂


  8. And, actually, Valerie, I would really LOVE to have you guest post this on my blog, Genea-Related ( How do you feel about that?


  9. Valerie, your gesture of sharing the information that you have is most appreciated. So many of our ancestors died never knowing where their ancestors were taken when families were divided. You have given a gift to the next generation, who may be seeking the answer to the reverse question–“who where their parents and were were they before?” As as descendant I say thank you!

  10. I think this is a wonderful idea and I hope it catches on. One way to share the information on would be to attach the slave related documents to the slave owners profile. When I go looking at known slave owners of my ancestors, I look at the attached stories and other documents, such as wills and I found my ancestors names in an attached will. You could do this with bills of sale too. Another way would be to do a blog post and name the names so that someone searching would come across them.

    1. Kristin,

      These are all great ideas. I do add any slave documents to the owners profile but I am not certain that people check them. I know that you do but you could be the exception and not the rule. I love the blog idea.

      Thank you for reading my blog and your comments!!


  11. Valerie, i truly hope that more descendants of slave owners will have the courage to take the same steps that you have. for those of us who are *this close* to finding enslaved ancestors, the work that you’re doing will be GOLD. thank you so much for your willingness to share!

    1. Thank you for reading my blog and taking action. I read your blog about Daniel Joseph and it was great. Also thank you for sharing it with I know they appreciate it.


  12. Valerie, thank you for stepping out and sharing. I, too, have slave owners among my ancestors. I would be happy to share what I have on these families. The idea of a challenge mentioned in an earlier comment is a great idea.

  13. I have found several cousins through DNA that we have tracked back through slavery. The first to contact me was rather a shock. Now, I consider it to be just one more family member to figure out the connection with. For those of us with ancestors from that era in America, it just is a fact we have to understand and move past. I have not spent much time with wills, but I suspect I should spend more.

  14. If the documents you uncover, such as wills, deeds, estate books, estate appraisals, newspaper announcements and advertisements, etc., include the name of the slave (as well as the owner), please consider submitting them to the Slave Name Roll Project. The objective of the project is to include that information in blog posts so that Internet search engines will index the information, making it accessible to future African-American researchers looking to break through the often impenetrable wall past the 1870 census. I administer the page and it is my way to pay it forward. If you do not blog, email me the information at psd11719 @ You can find the Slave Name Roll here:

  15. Hi – I have several ancestors from Virginia and Maryland from the 1630’s whose wills sometimes include the first names of slaves (some only have a number). I too wasn’t certain what to do, so am really pleased the question was asked. I look forward to posting the names to the Slave Name Roll in future.

  16. I don’t think there are any slaves in my tree, but when I did have uncles and aunts alive they wouldn’t talk about my father’s ancestors – but I wasn’t smart enough to ask “were they convicts?” Now none alive and I still don’t know why they were way out at Picton and where they came from. It is a pity you can’t put wise heads on children – have to wait until I am now ‘old’ and trying to find out all about my ancestors. It was great to read all your very wise comments.

  17. Your post came at an opportune moment for me, as I had recently begun reading through the wills and inventories of some of my ancestors. My family has been in this country since the 1600s and primarily in the south, so there are a number of slave owners in our tree. I’m excited to see some opportunities to share information, as I have actually been contacted a couple of times by people looking for African American ancestors that we might have a common link to. Hoping this helps some people break through their brick walls.

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