Rewriting history: Project aims to add names to the enslaved

Published 9:45 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Marcia Phillips

For the Enterprise

There is an old saying that we cannot rewrite history.

However, a new project being launched this month in Davie County called People Not Property, NC’s Enslaved Persons Project, will allow us to do just that.

Pre-Civil War records, such as the federal census, often documented slaves by gender and age only without the dignity of being named. This has proved particularly frustrating to genealogical research among the enslaved’s descendants.

This project seeks to uncover names of slaves from other sources and then add them to the records. It is a brilliant new solution to an old issue.

Davie Register of Deeds Kelly Funderburk has initiated this grassroots research project locally that began at UNCG, working with the State Archives and local registers offices and now spreading across North Carolina communities, recruiting volunteers to find the names of the enslaved in documents like slave bills of sale. These names will then be entered into the database and begin to fill in the gaps of our collective knowledge.

The Davie County Public Library and its Martin-Wall History Room is assisting in this project by making available its resources, such as an 1863 original slave taxation record, copies of wills that named slaves being inherited and personal memoirs of slave descendants as well as families that owned slaves.

The official launch of the project will be on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the library, sponsored by the Davie County Historical and Genealogical Society. Funderburk will speak about the project and introduce the roles volunteers can sign up to do – searching, researching and indexing. Anyone interested is invited to come learn more and be in on the ground floor of this historical project. This is the beginning of an ongoing work that could make a significant contribution to local history.

Volunteers will be provided the necessary tools and training, including how to decipher the writing in old documents. More information and volunteer forms are available at the register’s office and the library.

So, if you have always dreamed of being a history sleuth, dust off your Indiana Jones hat and join neighbors in rewriting history.