Tracing your family history may be a little easier, thanks to a newly organized slave database the Virginia Historical Society has launched.
The website, Unknown No Longer http://unknownnolonger.vahistorical.org/, currently has 1,500 names. You can do searches with keywords such as name, gender, location, occupation and plantation. Additionally, the database includes more than 250 digital images of original source documents. It also has information on slaves who had been taken out of Virginia by their owners.
“We started doing initial research to formulate the project in early 2010. We applied for the grant from Dominion Resources and The Dominion Foundation in late 2010. We heard from Dominion in January 2011 that we were granted the money. We have had two staff people working on the project regularly (not full-time—they also have other job responsibilities) since January and some summer interns helped with data entry and scanning,” explains Jennifer M. Guild, senior officer for Public Relations and Marketing at the Virginia Historical Society. Dominion is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy and operates the nation’s largest natural gas storage system and serves retail energy customers in 15 states.
Since the founding of the Virginia Historical Society in 1831, it has collected unpublished manuscripts, a collection that now numbers more than eight million processed items. The database is free to use; it’s funded with a $100,000 grant from Dominion. Unknown No Longer is accessible through the Virginia Historical Society’s homepage: www.vahistorical.org. There is a button on the lower left corner of the homepage that will take you directly to the database.
Virginia held more slaves than any other state and the records date back to the 1700s. In fact, the first Africans brought to English North America came to Virginia in 1619. Initially, they were indentured servants, which means they could “earn” their own freedom after several years of labor. Then slavery was introduced and wealthy Virginia planters began to buy slaves during the 1660s. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 abolished slavery in the United States. The Unknown No Longer documents are accounts that collectively tell the stories of African-Americans who have lived in the state over the centuries.
“What makes this so significant is that Unknown No Longer is the first database to extract and compile names of enslaved people from documents in the Virginia Historical Society’s collection,” says Guild.
The Society expects to expand the database over the next few years. “Unknown No Longer is a work in progress. We purposefully launched the database last week with an initial 1,500 names,” explains Guild. “We absolutely plan to add more names to the database as we find them in documents currently in our collection, and as documents are donated. It could take us years to review the more than eight million processed manuscripts in the VHS collection.”