Long-Lost Identities of Slaves Uncovered in Old Virginia Papers
Those Virginia families found the old, handwritten papers in attics, basements or desk drawers, Levengood said. The society stores the documents in an archive spanning thousands of square feet, he said.
The antique papers turned out to mention slaves.
“Often they appeared in the records of the owners who owned slaves as human property, which to us sounds so obscene and alien,” said Levengood, who’s also a historian. “But these people were writing down their inventory as if you would for insurance purposes. That’s the kind of things that owners did with slaves. This was the most valuable property they owned, and they wanted to make sure it was recorded.
“Often there was a human connection, and they grew up with these people, and they recorded their birth dates and deaths. It’s an incredibly complicated and tragic institution that we’re just beginning to understand the dimensions of,” Levengood said.