Select Page

Free slave-era research resource

It’s been almost exactly two years since the resource went online.

Two years of online access to one of the most amazing collections of resources for slave-era research you can imagine.

And it’s still, and will continue to be, absolutely free.

HeinOnline collection

The Legal Genealogist wrote about the collection — called Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law — when it was first released by HeinOnline, one of America’s premier subscription sites for legal research, in October 2016.1 And the value and depth of the collection has continued to grow.

Here’s the way the collection is described by HeinOnline:

This HeinOnline collection brings together a multitude of essential legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world. This includes every statute passed by every colony and state on slavery, every federal statute dealing with slavery, and all reported state and federal cases on slavery. Our cases go into the 20th century, because long after slavery was ended, there were still court cases based on issues emanating from slavery. To give one example, as late as 1901 Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had to decide if a man, both of whose parents had been slaves, could be the legitimate heir of his father, because under southern law, slaves could never be legally married. The library has hundreds of pamphlets and books written about slavery—defending it, attacking it or simply analyzing it, including an expansive slavery collection from Buffalo Erie County Public Library. The cooperation of this institution was central to developing this collection. We have also gathered every English-language legal commentary on slavery published before 1920, which includes many essays and articles in obscure, hard-to-find journals in the United States and elsewhere. We have provided more than a thousand pamphlets and books on slavery from the 19th century. We have also included many modern histories of slavery. Within this library is a section containing all modern law review articles on the subject. This library will continue to grow, not only from new scholarship but also from historical material that we continue to locate and add to the collection.2

The collection itself is simply stunning: a list of included items runs to more than 1900 lines ranging from books to court cases to statutes and more — and it’s continuing to grow.

And just as stunning is HeinOnline’s reason for making this collection available free:

while the Hein Company is a for-profit corporation with fiscal responsibilities to its shareholders, its mission statement contains a number of core values, one of which is Corporate Citizenship. This means that, as a company, Hein resolves to make a positive difference in the community.


The crisis revolving around race relations in America and the recent events surrounding this crisis have made the Hein Company rethink the idea of financially profiting from the sale of a collection on slavery. As good corporate citizens, Hein realized that a unique opportunity existed to make a positive impact in our community, in our profession and very possibly in a wider arena. Therefore, the decision was made not to charge for this collection, but to provide Slavery in America and the World free to anyone with an interest in the subject: libraries, institutions, students, researchers, or any other entity within our global community. By doing this, the Hein Company will realize a different form of profit by potentially making a difference during this troubling time.


The Hein Company has always recognized the impact librarians have within their communities. Their social consciousness, their communication skills, their ability to interact in a positive fashion with young children, students of all ages, high school, college and graduate level faculty, business people, attorneys, judges and the public in general put them in a unique position to open lines of communication to address the issues Americans are faced with today. By providing complimentary access to Slavery in America and the World, a wide audience has an opportunity to be more informed about the history of slavery and the pain of racism. By using this collection, librarians can be in the forefront of a movement to help educate their communities and create an environment for open and positive dialogue, which could have a positive impact on our society and may go a long way in helping find solutions to the distressing issues confronting all of us.3

Now, there is a registration process a user needs to go through to get access to this resource. You can start the process here on the Registration Form page. It can take as much as 48 hours to get the registration activated, but once it’s activated, you have complete access to the collection — and to some help to go along with it (training guides, videos, and more).

And we should all note one new thing on the registration page: there’s a donation section — and it’s not a donation to HeinOnline for the collection itself. Instead, the company says: “we do encourage everyone who registers for access to the valuable material in this database to donate to the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, or another charity of the user’s choice which supports civil rights, equality, or the advancement of people of color.” And, it reminds us, “Making a donation is voluntary, and is not required to access the database.4


I said it in 2016, and I have to repeat it now: I can’t recommend this enough. And I can’t thank HeinOnline enough for this act of corporate citizenship.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Shining a light,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Oct 2016 ( : accessed 11 Oct 2018).
  2. Collection description, “Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law,” HeinOnline ( : accessed 11 Oct 2018).
  3. About Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law,” HeinOnline, What’s New, 5 Oct 2016 ( : accessed 11 Oct 2018).
  4. Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law Registration Form,” HeinOnline ( : accessed 11 Oct 2018).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email