IGHR Wednesday: Slaves in the Family

I know I’ve talked about Michael Hait a lot in the last couple of posts. While Michael and I have met online and even corresponded a time or two, we had never met in person. He introduced himself Tuesday, and we’ve had several conversations since then centered around, you guessed it, certification and records, in particular records pertaining to slave and/or African American research.

Michael is known as an AfAm researcher. It’s one of his niches and, let me tell you, he’s darn good at it. It’s not all he does by a long shot, but it is something he’s well known for.

Case in point: Michael has been reconstructing a particular Maryland slave community for a good while now and has a lot of this kind of research under his belt already, including the more than 300 hours he’s put into reconstructing just this one community. That research led directly to his lecture “Using the Genealogical Proof Standard to Research a Slave Community” and an award-winning family history, to be published at a later date.

Michael presented that lecture tonight to a rapt audience. I missed the first 15 minutes (due to an extremely important engagement with the Brownie Bar in the Cafeteria), but the remainder was a fascinating look at not only the research process itself, but the end product, the knowledge Michael was able to glean about these individuals. Michael is offering this lecture as part of his professional services. I hope that means that he’ll present it again. If you have the opportunity, whether you’re interested in African American research or not, I hope you’ll take the time to attend this lecture given by a dynamic and engaging speaker.

Today, Dr. Debbie Abbott presented a class, part of our “normal” Course 3 schedule, about researching slaves and slave holders, including some historical information. Dr. Abbott is fairly down-to-Earth, and that pragmatism spills over into her attitude about researching slaves. One of the first things she told us was to stop thinking about slaves as people and think of them instead as property. Her remark was not in any way intended to be insensitive or harsh, but was meant to be illustrative of how slaves were treated: as property. Her point was that not researching slaves as property leads to enormous walls in our research. Slaves were property, ergo many documents pertaining to the slaves themselves, as individuals or otherwise, will be located in property records.

Dr. Abbott also took us through several fascinating series of records I had never seen before, including a huge online database (of sorts) done by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She’s going to be discussing manuscript collections in a later lecture, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what she has to say.

I’m not sure why, but I have a deep and abiding interest in researching my family’s slaves’ ancestors. No, I’m not descended from slaves myself (at least, not in the recent past…that I know of), but some of my ancestors owned slaves and, in my mind that means I’m responsible for researching those individuals as much as I’m responsible for researching my blood kin; much in the same manner that I research the ancestors of those who married into my large and extended family. Those slaves were part of my family. Therefore, they deserve my attention just as any of my other ancestors do.

I’m actually working on (i.e. toying with the idea of) reconstructing the family of Ned Morgan, a former slave of my Morgan family in Jackson Co., GA. I haven’t pulled all the details together yet. Actually, I’ll be brutally honest and admit that I haven’t pulled a quarter of the details together yet, but it’s a project I keep in the back of my mind and work on as I can. Let’s just say that I’ll be satisfied if I can accomplish even half of what Michael has done with the Maryland slave community he’s researching. But if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the published article.

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