Sunday, June 19, 2011

Slavery and emancipation resources in Illinois

Dave Bakke, a columnist for the State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield, Illinois (home of this September's FGS meeting), has called attention to the state archives' database of servitude and emancipation records (1722-1863). The database (not new) includes information from a variety of sources in nine southern Illinois counties on 1301 men and 929 women, and instructions on how to obtain the original records there indexed.

The same column brings news that University of Iowa law professor Lea VanderVelde is working on a book about slaves in the Land of Lincoln, and in the process helping upgrade the database. She'd like to see it include, for instance, material documenting the role of African-Americans in the lead mining district that includes Jo Daviess County in the state's far northwestern corner.

In her background reading, it sounds like VanderVelde is learning what genealogists should already know: that the late-19th and early-20th-century county histories are far from inclusive. "Many of the frontier histories have been whitewashed, creating an ‘amnesia’ about the slaves and indentured servants in free states.” While culling them for clues and additional sources, we would be ill advised to rely on them for information on anyone who wasn't prominent or conventional, or on the outline of the history they tell.

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