On 27 May Char McCargo Bah, a noted genealogist who specializes in African-American genealogy, spoke at the May meeting of the Fairfax Genealogical Society. Her topic was “Locating Slave Owners – It Is in the Details.”
Char led us through three different case studies, one of which centered on the search for the ancestors of a free black man who married a slave. The attendees followed each step and revelation in the research with rapt attention, which confirmed my suspicion that while genealogists enjoy educational presentations of all types, their favorite is always the case study.
Char emphasized that in researching slave ancestry, it is necessary to make use of every last detail, because there is often such a scarcity of information. Nevertheless, it was surprising how many sources she checked into and how much information she was able to turn up in these cases. Another surprising piece of information was that ex-slaves sometimes “flip-flopped” in choosing a surname after emancipation; this was sometimes due to connections to more than one slave-owning family. In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, this makes it necessary to focus on first names and locations.
Both attendees searching for slave ancestors and those trying to find out more about their slave-owning ancestors had plenty of questions for Char after the presentation. She was able to give us some good pointers to guide our research and we also exchanged some information with one another. One avenue I will try is to search in ascertaining whether or not my ancestor George Floyd was actually a slave-owner is the 1860-65 tax records at the Dallas Public Library. If there is one overriding them I took away from the presentation, it is to be persistent and patient and turn over every single stone.