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Breaking Brick Walls in Genealogy: Slaves in County Deeds of North Carolina

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One of the series-brick wallsbiggest brick walls to researching enslaved ancestors is finding documents that name slaves, and therefore able to pinpoint their slave holder(s). Many official documents fail to give the names of slaves. For example, with a very few exceptions, the 1850 and 1860 census slave schedule list the slave holder and the number of slaves owned by gender and age, but fail to list the names of slaves. Even in court records, wills, or estates that refer to specific slaves, they may give only age and gender without naming them. 2 new sources recently came to my attention and wanted to share them with you.

Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC has undertaken a project to abstract and index slaves mentioned in deed books and court records located at the New Hanover County Register of Deeds. This is a wonderful source for slave research! We have this book: New Hanover, North Carolina Slave Deeds at GHL for researchers to peruse. Another great related source is available online. These are the slave deeds of Buncombe County that were compiled by the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office. Both sources list the names of the grantor, the grantee, the slave, and the book and page number in the deed books where the entry appears. The New Hanover County book goes a step forward also giving the date. Information in both sources can be used to find the deed book and page (in both indexes) and then find the original.

One of the important points made by these sources is that slaves were considered property and deed books were not just the conveyance of land, but the conveyance of all property.  Most counties with deed books before 1865 will have conveyances of slaves and are a great resource. Many of those deeds are located at the County Register of Deeds, but also some are located at the State Archives of North Carolina. In some cases, the originals are located at the County Register of Deeds while the Archives has microfilmed copies to use.

For most microfilm of county records in NC, the Government & Heritage Library also has copies that circulate to North Carolina public libraries via Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Please note, we do not loan films of county records to libraries outside of NC. If you are a North Carolina resident, you can use our online catalog advanced setting to find deed microfilm. On the first search box, enter the county name and choose subject from the menu options. On the 2nd line, type deed and then choose keyword anywhere. About half way down the page for location, choose “Genealogy Microfilm” and search. Your local library can contact our library to borrow the film.

Come visit GHL to look at the book New Hanover, North Carolina Slave Deeds.

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