The Washington Post

Database of Virginia slave names made public

Names of people enslaved in Virginia, pulled from some of the Virginia Historical Society ’s 8 million documents, have been compiled into Unknown No Longer, a searchable database now available to the public.

Ambrotype from Virginia Historical Society's collection shows an unidentified woman. The organization has launched Unknown No Longer, a database of slave names. (Courtesy Virginia Historical Society)

The online tool includes more than 1,500 names found in letters, wills, court records and other sources. Each name is connected to a digital copy of the original document in which it was found. Society spokeswoman Jennifer Guild said the work of extracting the information began more than a year ago.

“It is possible these names have never been seen before,” she said. “This is the first time we have published them.”

The database can be searched by keywords such as name, occupation and plantation. “For instance, if all you knew was your great-great-great-grandmother was named Ann and she had been a slave in Virginia,  that is enough to begin a search with this database,” Guild said. “Or, if all you have is a plantation name, you go to that name and you will find what we have on the slaves who lived there.”

It is a continuing work: the society will add new information to the database as it continues to go through the 8 million documents in its collection.

This is the society’s first database that specifically compiles names of enslaved people from Virginia and is taken from their own materials. In the past, all that was available to anyone searching the society’s holdings online was a list of the titles of books or other published material that contained slave-related information; anyone wanting to know more about what those papers contained would have to go to the society to do the research.



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