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Documenting the enslaved

It was the 14th day of April 1831, and William M. Robertson needed money.

A hatter in Lowndes County, Mississippi, he owned a hat shop in the Town of Columbus, the county seat.

And he wanted to borrow $150.40.

John Billington had the money to lend, and Tilghman Tucker would act as trustee, but Robertson needed to offer security for the loan. Something the trustee would hold legal title to and could sell if the debtor didn’t pay off the loan as scheduled on the first of October.

And so, the deed book solemnly records, this man, William M. Robertson, put up property as security for that loan.

An unspecified town lot on which the hat shop stood.

A gray horse aged about 10 years.

And a certain Negro woman, Fan, about the age of thirty-five years.1

Read that last paragraph again.

A certain Negro woman, Fan, about the age of thirty-five years.

In 1831, she was property offered as security for a loan.

In 2017, Fan is a person to whom The Legal Genealogist owes a special duty.

A duty to document her in my family genealogy every bit as much as I document my own kin.

Because William M. Robertson was my third great grandfather.

Documenting the lives of those enslaved by my ancestors to the extent that I can is part of my obligation as a genealogist.

That’s the concept behind of The Beyond Kin Project, a new venture launched in 2016 by two Alabama genealogists, Donna Cox Baker and Frazine K. Taylor.2

I wrote about this project short while ago,3 including the explanation that:

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.4

Today I join in The Beyond Kin Project on a very personal level.

I will go on to add this post to the Slave Name Roll Project, the objective of which is “to record information about named slaves whenever and where ever they may be found so that African-American genealogists and family historians may break through the wall that is the 1870 census.”5

Because as a descendant of a slavemaster I can help the descendants of the enslaved.

Because I hope we can come together and work together and, together, document all of our families.

Beyond kin.

So that everyone’s name can be known.

Because it’s the right thing to do.


  1. Lowndes County, Mississippi, Deed Book 1:55, Robertson to Tucker, deed of trust, 14 April 1831; County Courthouse, Columbus; FHL microfilm 901930.
  2. See “BKP Founders,” The Beyond Kin Project ( : accessed 12 Mar 2017).
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “Researching beyond kin,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Mar 2017 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2017).
  4. Ibid., “Why we need the Beyond Kin Project.”
  5. About the Project,” Slave Name Roll Project ( : accessed 31 Mar 2017).
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