Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Restore the Ancestors Project

You may notice that I have a new badge displayed in the right hand sidebar for the Restore the Ancestors Project. Over the past week, I was able to index 10 pages of records of inventories made of Charleston, South Carolina plantations from 1732 to 1872 in inventories that included the names of enslaved ancestors. A collaboration between and LowCountry Africana, the project seeks to rediscover and give new voices to the 30,000 names of those listed as slaves in these inventories and bills of sale.

The indexing process was straightforward and does not require a membership (this is where the images are hosted and the annotations are done). You can sign up to volunteer, and in short order you'll receive clear instructions on how to access your set of images, how to annotate the images, and how to submit your work.

All you need to do is 10 pages to help further the Restore the Ancestors Project along. Simple, right? Well, not that simple, at least from an emotional standpoint.  The technical aspect was, in fact, simple. But I was unprepared for the thoughts and emotions as I entered over 100 names of slaves during the process.

There were Marys, Peters and others, all with a value in dollars listed next to their names. As I annotated each I didn't wonder why some were valued less than others (I knew why - I've done my research and work with African-American records), I just wondered why there was a value at all. I wondered how one could casually list people as chattel and then on the next line detail other household items such as silverware, china, pots and pans? And other thoughts went to how it would feel to have my own ancestors listed as property of another person, to be sold at will or whim without regard to family relationships.

While there was great sadness at times, I was also optimistic that the indexing somehow allowed me to "release" those names (without surnames) out into the world of genealogical and historical records for others to find. I had, and still have, hope that at least one person will be able to find a great-great grandmother or another ancestor among these names.

I have very little ancestry in the South, especially South Carolina, but I felt that this worthwhile project and the names hidden within somehow "called to me." This was not a way of me making amends with my own slave owning ancestors (and yes, many of my Huguenot ancestors, including Hugo Freer, owned slaves in New York) or trying to rid myself of some family guilt around slavery. I did this because this is not just African-American history. This is my history and your history. It is our history.

Please take a minute to read more about the Restore The Ancestors Project and I hope you'll do your 10 pages and then also blog about your experience.

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

1 comment:

D. Kay Strickland said...

I have gladly signed up to join this very worthy project. In addition to helping index this region's history, I am hoping to learn how to do a better job indexing my own family's slaves. Listing slaves for others to find as ancestors is a wrenching, but necessary, process. It is time for all of America's pioneers to be found and celebrated.