“For every soul a story, a family a name.”
Beyond our parents.
Beyond our brothers and sisters.
Beyond our grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Beyond our cousins.
Beyond even those who might be considered our kin.
Beyond them all, our people had other people to whom they were connected in a critical way.
It may include anyone whose life intersected with that of our kin — as lives intersect when people we research are fellow travelers in some of life’s tough roads.
They may have been fellow orphans in institutions, fellow prisoners, apprentices and indentured servants, neighbors, business partners, or military comrades — and we want and need to document their lives and the way that impacted our own kin.
But nowhere is that need to document more pressing that in “the life-altering connections between slaveholders and the enslaved persons who shared their environments.”
The methodology they outline and urge on the The Beyond Kin Project website can be used with any beyond-the-kin relationship — relationships that any genealogist will recognize as falling within what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the FAN club: Friends, Associates and Neighbors.
But where it’s needed the most is in that relationship of the slavemaster and the enslaved.
Why? The website answers that question eloquently:
Effective genealogical research on America’s enslaved people requires access to the documents and life stories of the slaveholders who claimed ownership of them. The slaveholders’ stories, meanwhile, are incomplete without the fullest possible accounting of the enslaved persons who were integral to their comfort, wealth, and position in society. While the two groups of people in most cases were not genetically kin, they have relationships “beyond kin.” Slavery intertwined their lives and connected their family histories.
Enslaved persons also shared Beyond Kin relationships with the rest of the enslaved population with whom they worked but were not traditionally related. Research work illuminating the life of one enslaved individual has the potential to be useful as well for descendants researching the ten, forty, or two hundred other enslaved persons who shared this one individual’s life circumstances. But how do these researchers find each other’s work? We need a way to tie all of the often nameless scraps of information about enslaved persons together in coherent context until they can be analyzed and hopefully matched with their descendants’ family trees.2
And, the founders continue:
Genealogists who descend from slaveholders (SHs) are uniquely positioned to revolutionize genealogy for their African American colleagues. You undoubtedly feel sympathy for the genealogical challenges facing the descendants of the enslaved persons (EPs) who once gave your ancestors wealth, comfort, and social status. But what if you start seeing their challenge as your own?
Because it is.
The challenge of documenting an ancestors’ enslaved persons (EPs) logically falls to you for many reasons:
• The answers for antebellum African American family trees lie predominantly in the records of the white families who claimed ownership of them.
(See “The records of slaveholders.”)
• The puzzles of enslaved identities can best be solved by studying them as groups, working outward from the SH’s records.
(See “The group approach to slave identification.”)
• You will neither know nor understand your ancestors until you fill in the fuller picture of those who were integral to their most intimate daily lives.
(See “The rest of the family picture.”)
• If you’ve read this far, you might be ready for the genealogical challenge and enlightenment opportunity of a lifetime. This will be it.
(See “The challenge of a lifetime.”)3
It’s a great idea — it’s essential research for all of us, whether we descend from the slavemaster or the enslaved or from those who were neither. Researching beyond our own kin to those whose lives intersected the lives of our ancestors in any way is part and parcel of good genealogical practice.
And committing some of our research time and effort to help research communities faced with special challenges, like the African-American community in the United States, or the Jewish community in World War II Europe, or…
Take a look.
In our own way, in our own time, we can all take part.
Enriching our own family history, and that of everyone else with whom our families came into contact.