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The Wild Terrain of Plantation Papers for Research on Enslaved People


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In this presentation, I share reasons why plantation papers are such a great resource for information about enslaved people, what kinds of materials are available in those collections, and how to go about finding the papers you might use for your research.

I gave this presentation at the 2017 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference.

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The Wild Terrain of Plantation Papers for Research on Enslaved People

  1. 1. The Wild Terrain of Plantation Papers for Research on Enslaved People Andi Cumbo-Floyd
  2. 2. The People Enslaved at Bremo • Why me? • What I learned? • Who I got to know? The stairs in a slave dwelling at Bremo.
  3. 3. The Challenges of Researching Enslaved People • Legal Limits – Laws around literacy – Laws around marriage – Laws around naming • Cultural Limits – “Ownership” – Migration – Racial Labels
  4. 4. The Value of Using Plantation Papers • Primary Source Documents – Personal accounts – Physical descriptions • Personal and Demographic Data – Marriages, births, deaths, sales, etc. • Relationship between enslaved people and their enslavers. – Help you find locations as well as, perhaps, more relationships
  5. 5. Types of Materials Available • Account/Cash Books • Inventories • Correspondence • Receipts • Photos – rare but invaluable • Journals • Work records • Building records Examples – Cocke Papers at the University of Virginia
  6. 6. Finding the Plantations Papers for your Family 1. Who was the white family? • Ask older family members • Check family Bible • Check Census from 1870 • Don’t discount any story. 2. Begin with public records • Census, marriages, deaths, etc. • Search local libraries and historical societies • Check university and state libraries – Example – Watson Papers at UVa. 3. Ask local churches, both white and black. • Check church records • Ask older church members 4. Work with community members. • Find the community historians and ask what they know. • Be courageous about knocking on doors.
  7. 7. The Inner Challenges of this Work • This work is hard in many ways. • Emotionally • Historically • Physically • Be prepared. • Know what you might find. • Think about what you will share about what you find. • Ask for help. • Talk with other genealogists • Reach out to organizations like Coming to the Table.
  8. 8. Questions • What research have you done with plantation papers? • What brick walls have you hit? • What questions do you have about using these resources?
  9. 9. Contact Andi • • • Thank you so much for your time.