Casefile Clues

31 May 2013

The Race and Slavery Petitions Project Locates My Virginia Tinsleys in Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Indexes to records are always helpful for the genealogist, even when those indexes are not created by genealogists. Finding aids created for historians and social scientists are one type of aid that family history researchers use. The Race and Slavery Petitions Project is an example of one such project.

The Race and Slavery Petitions Project has created the Digital Library on American Slavery which, according to their website:

"The Digital Library on American Slavery offers data on race and slavery extracted from eighteenth and nineteenth-century documents and processed over a period of eighteen years. The Digital Library contains detailed information on about 150,000 individuals, including slaves, free people of color, and whites. These data have been painstakingly extracted from 2,975 legislative petitions and 14,512 county court petitions, and from a wide range of related documents, including wills, inventories, deeds, bills of sale, depositions, court proceedings, amended petitions, among others."
The Digital Library is a wonderful resource for genealogists with families who lived in areas impacted by slavery. It's wonderful because the database of names that can be searched. Genealogists with slave ancestors or slave-owning ancestors can utilize the index in an attempt to locate records.

One warning--the records that were selected for this project are those that involve slavery in some way. If your slave-owning ancestor was never involved in any type of court action involving slaves, he may not appear in this database. If your slave-owning ancestor was involved in an estate "fight" (as mine was) involving a slave, then their name should appear in this database. Southern ancestors whose only court involvement was for horse thievery will not be in this database. There is a warning, however. Do not assume that because you've searched this database that you've "done" your court research completely for your slave-owning or your slave ancestor. You haven't.

That said, this is still an excellent resource for genealogists.

The database allowed me to locate a court case in the 1830s in Lynchburg, Virginia, involving an "issue" with the estate of a John Tinsley who died in Amherst County, Virginia, in 1820. The screen shot of the abstract follows:
click for larger image
Of course, the genealogist wants the details.

The petitions that were used to create the abstract entries and the index database have been microfilmed in several series of microfilm publications. The microfilm are in many library collections and guides have been created to facilitate locating the actual records within the collection.The website for the Digital Library on American Slavery contains a page listing which libraries have these petitions.

The records for this court case were located in "Race, Slavery and Free Blacks, Series II, Petitions to Southern Courts, 1775-1867, Part C: Virginia (1775-1867) and Kentucky (1790-1864," on Roll 4, Petition Analysis Records - Virginia."

I was fortunate that the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, has the complete set of microfilm. Not all libraries have the complete collection and users of the ACPL, as we fondly call it, are lucky to have complete access to these records--especially when one considers that there is an online full name index to the collection. The library also has the accompanying finding aids that were printed for each microfilm series.

The petitions for Virginia that I needed can be located in the ACPL microtext catalog:

The Allen County Public Library has a number of "unknown" genealogy gems. This item is one of them. We will have a blog post on the materials that were a part of this court case and where my research should progress. 

And there's a lesson in all of this as well. You might find the answer to your genealogy question several hundred miles from where your ancestor actually lived.