Shaw University, Local Deeds Office Hope To Uncover Human Stories Lost to Slavery

A partnership between Shaw University, located in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Wake County Register of Deed's Office hopes to uncover forgotten human stories of slavery in the area.

Dr. Valerie Ann JohnsonDr. Valerie Ann JohnsonThe project, called The Enslaved Persons Project, will help people track the history of their families by cataloguing, transcribing and publicizing records from more than 30 deed books that contained bills of sale and property exchanges.

“Many people don’t realize that enslaved people were not issued birth certificates or marriage certificates, instead property deeds and bills of sale are sometimes the only written records of the lives of these men, women and children,” said Tammy Brunner from the Wake County Register of Deeds. “We want to make those records accessible and searchable online, because those are someone’s great grandfather or great, great grandmother – they were people, not property.”

The project is part of a larger effort by the University of North Carolina Greensboro Libraries and the North Carolina Division of Archives and Records to create a public database of centralized information about formerly enslaved people from across North Carolina's 100 countries.

"This collaboration supports the interconnection between community, local government and the university through a public humanities project that gives us more insight into the lives of Black North Carolinians,” said Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, dean of arts, sciences and humanities at Shaw University.