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Making the slave connection: an introduction

One of the most taxing forms of genealogical research involves identifying enslaved persons (EPs).  While a rare few researching EPs will be fortunate enough to locate well-maintained, detailed documentation, most will experience varying levels of difficulty as they analyze records for clues.

The written records about EPs will be different in every state, county, and period. They will be further complicated by the variations of the individuals involved in the transactions being documented. And ultimately luck may determine the degree of success.

The strategies we offer here cannot promise the recovery of every EP’s identity and story, though that will never cease to be the goal. These are, however, the most tried and true techniques, whether you are the descendant of SHs, the descendant of EPs, or a volunteer who is adopting a SH farm, plantation or institution for research. No matter the results, the  difficult work you do, if shared, will offer a foundation that others can build upon. Together, we can dramatically improve the chances of recovering the stories of our EPs.

Please note that these strategies assume you already have a basic knowledge of genealogical research. If you are just getting started in genealogy, we recommend you seek training in the basics. Given that grounding, these strategies offer a solid starting point in the special challenge of slave genealogy. There will be more to learn and do as you go deeper and encounter unique problems. Each step gets you closer.

So, let’s begin.

Research Strategy for the Descendants of Enslaved Persons

Research Strategy for the Descendants of Slaveholders (real and adopted)


NOTE: The strategies described here are for researching the last generations of enslavement in the nineteenth century. As the Beyond Kin Project expands, we plan to offer guidance on earlier layers of research.
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For every soul a story, a family, a name