Louisiana Slave Database
by Marty Guidry
With the unprecedented success of the ABC TV miniseries “Roots” in 1977 and the earlier-published book of the same title by Alex Haley, African-Americans and other began researching the genealogy and history of American slaves in earnest. Initially, as Haley discovered, records were difficult to locate and information within the records was tantalizing, yet incomplete. As time passed, researchers have found new sources and techniques for researching American slave genealogy and history. It is not unusual today for a person to trace their African-American genealogy to a tribe in Africa although few have the money, time and resources as Haley did to visit Africa on extended trips and seek their genealogy further back in time through the oral history of the tribe.
Louisiana Slave Datatase & Louisiana Free Database
Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall1,2, a Louisiana native and then-professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, was doing research at the courthouse in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana in 1984 when she discovered boxes of old notarial records containing a wealth of information on the slaves of that region. Captured by this intriguing information, Dr. Hall spent the next fifteen years gathering additional slave information from throughout Louisiana as well as from French, Spanish and Texan records.
Through her diligent, painstaking research, Dr. Hall amassed an unimaginable amount of information on over 100,000 slaves from Louisiana. The data included not only the slaves’ names, but also their genders, ages, occupations, illnesses, family relationships, ethnicity, places of origin, owners, prices paid by owners and other tidbits of their history rarely known before.
In addition to compiling extensive information on 100,666 Louisiana slaves, Dr. Hall also recorded information on the manumissions of 4,071 slaves in their route to freedom. She divided her work covering the time period 1719-1820 into two databases: the “Louisiana Slave Database” and the “Louisiana Free Database”.
In March, 2000 LSU Press published the two databases on a Compact Disk (CD) entitled “Louisiana Slave Database and Louisiana Free Database 1719-1820”3. The CD’s soon sold out; however, the database was very cumbersome to use and difficult to search.
In 2001 ibiblio.org maintained by the University of North Carolina requested that Dr. Hall let them place the databases on their website. She agreed with the condition that they create a search engine for accessing the records easily. Unfortunately, ibiblio.org created a search engine only for the Slave Database and not the Free Database. They also made some changes to the databases; however, these are minor in nature. In November, 2001 ibiblio.org published the databases on their web portal under the name “Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1719-1820”4. In addition, to the searchable database, the website also includes Dr. Hall’s statistical calculations and three pre-set searches “African Names”, “Revolts” and “Runaways”. To access the “Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1719-1820” database on ibiblio.org, click on this link:
http://www.ibiblio.org/laslave/ (Slave Database)
Later Ancestry.com asked Dr. Hall for permission to incorporate the two databases into their search engine. Dr. Hall agreed provided Ancestry.com did not charge for their use. In 2003 Ancestry.com opened the two databases to the public free of charge under the titles “Louisiana Slave Records, 1719-1820”5 and “Louisiana Freed Slave Records, 1719-1820”6. The two databases can be accessed on Ancestry.com at:
http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7383 (Slave Database)
http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7382 (Freed Database)
Before searching either the ibiblio.org or the Ancestry.com databases, one should read the brief explanation on how to conduct a search and tips for improving the search at:
http://www.ibiblio.org/laslave/explain.php (How-To Search the Databases)
Dr. Hall’s detailed description of the Louisiana Slave Database and the Louisiana Free Database7 discusses the underlying format of these databases and provides statistical analyses of the information in the databases. Read her description at:
http://www.afrigeneas.com/library/louisiana/ (Description of Databases)
Although the Slave and Free databases provide a wealth of information on slaves in Louisiana during the 1700’s and early to mid-1800’s, these records do not include all slaves in Louisiana during this time period. Often additional information on slaves can be found in estates and conveyance records in Louisiana parish courthouses. Also, slaves during this period almost always were known by their given names as they did not have surnames. In searching the records, it is often more productive to search by the master’s surname. Furthermore, searching spelling variations of the master’s surname often provides more complete results.
A brief search on the Guédry surname and several of its variants produced these results:
No results were found for Guidery, Guidrey, Guedrey, Guedery, Gaidry, Guildry, Guildery, Guildrey, Gindry, Gindery, Gindrey, Gidry, Gudry, Gedry, Jeddry, Jedry, Labine, LaBean. Petitpas and Pettipas.
During the 1930’s the Works Progress Administration (WPA) established the Federal Writers’ Project in which historians in the United States interviewed former slaves and compiled their narratives. The Slave Narrative Collection contains the autobiographical accounts of ex-slaves from 17 states. Compiled from over 2300 interviews during 1936-1938, these narratives are a unique glimpse into the life of a slave in the United States and are often difficult to read for the horrors suffered.
In 1941 the U. S. government microfilmed the narratives as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves8. Recently the Manuscript and the Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress placed the original interviews and over 500 photographs of former slaves online on the website “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938”9 at the link:
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html (Born in Slavery)
Former slaves living in Louisiana were not interviewed as part of the Federal Writers’ Project; however, 308 ex-slaves in Texas were. Many former slaves from Louisiana had moved to Texas after the Civil War. In 1974 Texas narratives of the Federal Writers’ Project were published in four-volumes as The Slave Narratives of Texas10. Later in 1940-1941 ex-slaves in Louisiana were interviewed after the Federal Writers’ Project had closed. Their narratives were published in 1990 in Mother Wit: The Ex-Slave Narratives of the Louisiana Writers’ Project11.
Recently Ancestry.com has compiled the slave narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project as well as those from several others sources into a searchable database entitled “Slave Narratives”12. This extensive collection has over 3500 interviews with ex-slaves and spans the period from 1929-1939. “Slave Narratives” can be accessed on Ancestry.com at:
http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4342 (Slave Narratives)
Examples of plantation slave quarters in Louisiana
Although none of the former slaves interviewed had the surname Guidry (or a variant of it), several of the interviews mentioned a person named Guidry as the slave owner (master). These are:
A new database on Ancestry.com is the ”New Orleans, Louisiana, Slave Manifests, 1807-1860”13. Although the international slave trade was banned in 1807, within the United States slaves could still be marketed. The 1807 law banning the international slave trade also required that captains of vessels carrying slaves within the continental waters to prepare a manifest of their slave cargo. These are the surviving slave manifests prepared for ships entering and leaving the Port of New Orleans. Some inward and outward manifests have been lost over time. The records are not indexed at this time so each individual manifest must be searched. There are 29,875 individuals on the manifests.
http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1562 (New Orleans Slave Manifests)
The “Louisiana Digital Library”14 is a massive database containing over 144,000 photographs and documents on all aspects of Louisiana history and culture from the 1500’s to the present day. Within the digitized collection are several hundred photographs and documents on slaves, the slave trade and slavery in Louisiana. Some are of a general nature, but many name the individuals and provide information on their lives. For best results use the “Search All Collections” feature on the homepage. See below for an example of one document from this collection on two slaves Henry and Don Louis belonging to Augustin Guedry. The original documents can be downloaded from the website at:
http://louisdl.louislibraries.org/ (Louisiana Digital Library)
The “Digitial Library on American Slavery”15 contains detailed information on over 150,000 slaves, free people of color and whites. The information was gleaned from over 17,000 legislative and county petitions as well as wills, inventories, bills of sale, court proceedings and other civil government documents filed between 1775 and 1867 in 15 southern states and the District of Columbia. There are six entries for Guidry (no other variants mentioned) in the database – Cilesie Savoy Guidry, Firmin Guidry, Louis Guidry, Onezime Louis Guidry, Onezime Guidry Esq. and Theodule Guidry. The “Digital Library on American Slavery” is at:
http://library.uncg.edu/slavery/about.aspx (Digital Library on American Slavery)
A team of international historians has compiled a superb website entitled “The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database”16 with information on almost 35,000 slave voyages from 1501 to 1866 destined for the United States and six other regions of the world. The names provided in this database are the African names of persons being transported as well as the names of the ship captains. Although not specific to Louisiana, this database provides a superb, detailed overview of slave trade from Africa to the United States and other regions of the world. It is available at:
http://www.slavevoyages.org/tast/index.faces (Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database)
Another excellent resource for Afro-American History and Genealogy is the AfriGeneas (African Ancestored Genealogy) website and particularly its AfriGeneas Library17 at
http://www.afrigeneas.com/library/ (AfriGeneas Library)
There are many sources of information on slaves and slavery in Louisiana in texts and on the internet. The above are but a select group of the better ones readily available on the internet. With the expanded resources available today one can now trace his African ancestry well beyond the post-Civil War period. Additionally, there are professional genealogists specializing in Afro-Louisiana Genealogy with whom one can contract to get help.
See page 28 for References
Violet, Louisiana-1930’s Slave quarters at the
former home of
SLAVE NARRATIVES - ORELIA ALEXIE FRANKS
SLAVE NARRATIVES - SLAVES EXECUTED
1. “Gwendolyn Midlo Hall”, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia; Internet at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwendolyn_Midlo_Hall
2. “Gwendolyn Midlo Hall”; ibiblio.org; Internet at: http://www.ibiblio.org/laslave/hall/vitajune2007.html
3. Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo; Databases for the Study of Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy (Louisiana State University Press; Baton Rouge, LA; March, 2000). Compact Disk.
4. Hall, Gwendolyn, Midlo; Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy, 1719-1820 (ibiblio.org; University of North Carolina; Chapel Hill, NC; November 2001). Searchable Internet Database: http://www.ibiblio.org/laslave/
5. Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo; Louisiana Slave Records, 1719-1820 (Ancestry.com; Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.; Provo, UT; 2003). Searchable Internet Database: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7383
6. Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo; Louisiana Freed Slave Records, 1719-1820 (Ancestry.com; Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.; Provo, UT; 2003). Searchable Internet Database: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7382 .
7. Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo; The Louisiana Slave Database and the Database: 1719-1820 (Afrigeneas Library; Atlanta, GA). Internet Site: http://www.afrigeneas.com/library/louisiana/
8. Works Progress Administration; Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves (Works Progress Administration; Washington, D.C.; 1941). Microfilm, 17 volumes.
9. National Digital Library Program (NDLP), Library of Congress: Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938; Searchable Internet Database: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snack.html
10. Tyler, Ronnie C. & Murphy, Lawrence R., editors; The Slave Narratives of Texas (Encino Press; Austin, TX; 1974).
11. Clayton, Ronnie W.; Mother Wit: The Ex-Slave Narratives of the Louisiana Writers’Project (Peter Lang; New York, NY; 1990).
12. Works Progress Administration, et al.; “Slave Narratives” (Ancestry.com; Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.; Provo, UT; 2003). Searchable Internet Database: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4342
13. National Archives and Records Administration; New Orleans, Louisiana, Slave Manifests, 1807-1860 (Ancestry.com; Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.; Provo, UT; 2003). Searchable Internet Database: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1562
14. Louisiana Library Network; Louisiana Digital Library (State Library of Louisiana; Baton Rouge, LA; 1992). Searchable Internet Database: http://louisdl.louislibraries.org/
15. ERIT, University Libraries, UNCG; Digital Library on American Slavery (University of North Carolina; Greensboro, NC; 1993). Searchable Internet Site: http://library.uncg.edu/slavery/about.aspx
16. Eltis, David & Halbert, Martin; The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University; Atlanta, GA; 2008).
17. Nelson, Valencia King (webmaster); AfriGeneas (African Ancestored Genealogy) Library (Afrigeneas Library; Atlanta, GA). Searchable Internet Site: http://www.afrigeneas.com/library/