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March 12, 2010

Carnival of African-American Genealogy: Slaves & Slave Owners

Restore My Name – Slave Records and Genealogy Research, will kick-off this African-American themed carnival intended to be a gathering place for the community to share and learn about African-American genealogy.

As a descendant of slave owners, have you ever been pressured by family not to discuss or post about records containing slave names?

As a descendant of slaves, have you been able to work with or even meet other researchers who are descendants of slave owners?

I wanted to join in this first Carnival for African-American genealogy for two reasons. First, I am the descendant of slave owners. My husband is almost certainly the descendant of slaves. It's an uncomfortable position for me even though I know logically and intellectually that I am not responsible for my ancestors actions.

My husband’s ancestor Jonathan Butler and two of his sons are noted in early (pre 1851) Ontario census and tax assessment records as “negro”, “African”, “black” and “mulatto”. We know that Jonathan arrived in Upper Canada (present day Ontario) as early as 1812, and that he was from America, and that he settled in an area provided by the government for fugitve slaves, - but we do not know his ancestry. It is almost certain he was either a fugitive slave or a free black man. But almost certainly if not Jonathan himself, somewhere in his ancestry there is a slave.

How does this affect our research? In my own research I have found several ancestors who owned slaves, which was a shock to me. These ancestors were living in New York - several were the early Dutch who settled New Netherland (present day New York) in the early and mid 1600s. Sadly the names of their slaves are not recorded in any records I have found. I say sadly because finding and recording those slave names to share with others would have been a small effort on my part to help ease my discomfort over that aspect of my ancestry.

I also have ancestors who owned slaves in New York in the 1820s but again the slave names were not recorded.

While we've not found any resistance among other descendants of slave owners to discuss that time in history, we have found reluctance and even outright refusal in some branches of the descendants of Jonathan Butler to accept and embrace their black heritage. They do not want us to continue our research into his ancestry and so refuse to share information with us.

However my husband and I are united in our attempts to find slave records and share them with other researchers.


Luckie said...

Lorine, thanks to you for your CoAAG contribution & commitment to sharing this vital data with the genealogy community. I am so proud of us all!:-)

Sandra Taliaferro said...


A really interesting story. Thanks for sharing it with us as part of the 1st CoAAG.