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Dear Ms. Downs,
Thank you for reaching out to History Hub with your question. There are several options that you can pursue, both on a local and a national level.
When researching specific individuals that were slaves, it is important to keep certain details in mind. Many (not all) slaves after emancipation took on the surnames of their previous owners, but that does not necessarily mean that these slaves will have the same last name as your ancestor. Because they were sold to a new owner in 1853, those slaves after emancipation might have taken on their new owners’ surnames. Another detail to keep in mind is that owners would break up traditional family units (mother, father, etc.), so children often took the surname of their mother.
If you know the state and county where your ancestor lived, you have the option to visit that county’s courthouse and request records relating to your great-grandfather and any documents he may have filed during his lifetime. Public documents that you might find could include: deeds of gift, marriage records, deeds of purchase for slaves or records related to the sale of slaves, land documentation, etc. Pursuing this at a local level might give you the specific information to help with your search.
Because you have the name of the individuals that bought the slaves from the estate sale, you could trace the new slave owners through the federal census to find out where they lived and who they might have bought. Slave owners were required to fill out information for the federal census, which would have included the number of slaves owned and descriptive information about each slave. Slaves would not have been mentioned by name, but from 1820-1840 the census records started to contain more descriptive information for each individual. Once you have more information about the new owners, you can take your search locally as you would have done with your own ancestor.
The National Archives holds documents relating to the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. This organization began as a way to help displaced slaves and impoverished whites living in the South by providing opportunities for education, work, and documentation. If you have the first and last names of the slaves, you can use these records to help trace their journey after slavery. Microfilmed records can include headquarter records, records from field offices, and marriage records. To learn more about how to order microfilm records for your research, visit the National Archives Catalog at https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau.
Because of the brutal nature of the slave system, finding these individuals may not be an easy task, but there are record collections out there that can help you. We wish you luck with your research, and thank you for reaching out to us here at the History Hub.
State Library of North Carolina, “How to Find Slave Records” https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/genealogy/finding-slave-records. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Joseph Shumway, “African American Research: Tips for Tracing Families Post-1865”, ancestry.com, February 28. 2014. Accessed September 13, 2017.
National Archives Catalog:
Census records: https://www.archives.gov/research/census
Freedmen’s Bureau: https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau
Answer compiled by Marie Taylor