For African-American genealogists, breaking through the brick wall of slavery can require thorough, painstaking research into the records of the slaveowning families—with no guarantee of success. You can’t simply log on to a Web site and expect to find meticulously researched and reconstructed lineages of slave families that connect all the dots for you.
But that’s exactly what three organizations plan to create for descendants of the slaves of Charleston, SC’s Magnolia Plantation
and others operated by the Drayton family. In a project funded by the plantation’s foundation, the University of South Florida’s all-volunteer Africana Heritage Project
will pore over the Draytons' plantation journals to re-create the family trees of its slaves. Those family files will be posted on genealogy wiki WeRelate
, where family history researchers will be able to access them for free. Africana Heritage Project founding director Toni Carrier says the files—in GEDCOM format—will appear gradually as the research progresses. "We aim to have the first batch up by mid-July," she says.
Magnolia Plantation is also collaborating with the Africana Heritage Project on a new Web site to be launched in March 2008: Lowcountry Africana
will document African-American heritage in South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida’s historic rice-growing region—in particular, its unique Gullah/Geechee
culture. The site will feature slaveholding families’ plantation records, a searchable database of primary historical documents, name indexes to Lowcountry history and genealogy books, historical photographs and more.
Carrier encourages genealogists and families with ties (or suspected ties) to Drayton family plantations to contact
her organization. "We would love to invite them to join this exciting journey of discovery," she says.