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Property Records

 

Slaves were the personal property of their owners and as such were without legal rights. Their names appear on property records when an owner recorded their transfer to another person. Instead of waiting until their death to pass property to their children, some parents distributed their land and personal property, including slaves, much earlier. They would file deeds at the courthouse to make the transfer legal. The most compelling example of the formal transfer of slaves occurred on January 1, 1852, when in separate deeds Robert Jemison, of Talladega County, Alabama gave a large group of slaves to each of his five children.

Property records should be one of the record sources you search only after you have traced your ancestors back to 1870 and have a good idea who owned them as slaves. Keep in mind that the names of you ancestors will not appear in deed indexes; only the name of the owner will be listed. Don't hurry through the deed books. You may have to read quite a few records to find one describing the transfer of slaves from one owner to another.

Property records were filed in a civil court, such as a county, circuit or orphans court. If you visit the courthouse in the county where your slave ancestors lived in 1866, ask the clerk to direct you to the property records-they are public records and you can search them for free, but expect to pay a fee for photocopies, generally $1.00 per page.

The Family History Library of the LDS Church has microfilmed many of the property records of most of the counties in slave states. You can view those films at the main library in Salt Lake City or at the Family History Center in your area. It will take approximately six weeks to receive the films and you can expect to pay a small shipping and handling fee.

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