People not Property: Library’s history room contains “buried” treasures

Published 1:51 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

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Have you ever yearned to find buried treasure?

Here is a way you can do that without a shovel or even getting your hands dirty.

Marcia Phillips, historian in the Martin-Wall History Room at the Davie County Public Library,  has some ideas.

“A year into the research at the library into the People Not Property Project, we have learned that there are countless informal records (the Register of Deeds office is researching the public records held there) that name slaves from 1836 on here, hidden in plain view in our files,” she said. “Just a sampling revealed 15 categories where records with slave names are recorded – from Apprentice to Church to Cohabitation to Family Records to Wills, and 10 more types.”

These are being copied and compiled into binders for family researchers by volunteer Cathy Veach. “This is Volunteer Appreciation Week so thank her and any other volunteers you know,” Phillips said.

By far the largest number of records come from the Surname Files in the History Room, accessible any hour the library is open.

A new project makes it possible for anyone to search the files and find the hidden treasure of giving back a name to an unnamed slave in the census records of 1840, 1850 and 1860. It also unlocks doors for their descendants in filling out their family trees.

“About a year ago, when first doing this project, several of us sat around a table, connected the dots between several records and the census and discovered the name of a female slave was Dorcas. This happens in real time and is happening now in Davie County,” she said.

The search couldn’t be simpler or the tools any lower tech. Instructions on the file cabinets in the History Room direct you to select a file in sequence, look through it and pull any pages with reference to slaves. You can do it in 15 minutes at a time or hours on end as you wish.

“This project will likely take years to complete but we need your help to shorten that timeframe and get information available sooner rather than later. It is a rare opportunity to fill in the gaps in local history and you can be part of capturing the data in a historic endeavor,” Phillips said.

What treasure will you find?

Whose name will you give back?

Direct questions to Phillips at or 753-6031.