52 Weeks to Better Genealogy, #44: Giving Back The Past

I have written a few posts (see here, here and here) about my coming of age in the Civil Rights South and my coming to terms with the unspoken piece of the Civil War South–slavery.  A few weeks back Thomas MacEntee of  Destination: Austin Family detailed a volunteer project in his September 29 post.   I clicked once, twice, three times and was signed up to participate in the Restore the Ancestors project.

The South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Family Search and Lowcountry Africana have collaborated with Footnote.com, the on-line archive, to digitize estate inventory records of Colonial and Charleston South Carolina from 1732 to 1872, making them available to online researchers–free of charge.  Volunteers are needed to make this collection of records searchable.  By indexing the names, dates and places found in these inventories and bills of sale, up to 30,000 slave names can be rediscovered!!

Within a day of my cursor taps I received my welcome-to-the-project email, complete with assignment and outstanding instructions for standardized indexing. The documents are fascinating windows into the world of shop keepers, blacksmiths, gravestone cutters, planters, and preachers.  The Footnote viewer is easy to use and the annotation procedure easy to master.  I found this volunteering mentally easy; but I must admit that each time I was confronted by the word chattel or a line of names followed by a dollar sign, I felt a prickle in my eyes, a lump in my throat.  Confronting this legacy of our nation’s slave culture is painful.

I can not give back freedom and opportunity to my ancestors’ enslaved people.  But, annotation by annotation, I can give these South Carolina names back to their descendants.

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