Illinois Ancestors: Black history celebrated this month

Illinois Ancestors: Black history celebrated this month

February has again been designated as Black History Month. Thus it is appropriate to highlight some websites related to this subject.

Digital library on slavery

The Digital Library on American Slavery is an easy resource to search thousands of county court and legislative petitions, 1775 to 1867, from the 15 slave-holding states and the District of Columbia, that relate to race and slavery. More than 150,000 individuals have been identified, including 80,000 slaves and 10,000 free people of color. The website is hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and has been underwritten by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

For a better understanding of this website, visit and select the Browse Subjects tab. From there, one can select from these subjects: slave ownership (e.g., absentee owners, free black slave owners), changes in slave ownership (e.g. bride's dowry, widow's dower, purchase, swapping slaves), slaves and slave management, attaining freedom (e.g., slaves freed by owner, purchased for emancipation), free people of color, and crime and punishments (e.g., runaways, slave trials). The results include a PAR (Petition Analysis Record) Number, location (state and county) and abstract of the petition.

For example, the abstract of PAR Number 10181801, Alabama, 1818, "unknown" county, reads, "Slave owner David Norris seeks to emancipate his slave Nancy, who saved his life when he was about to be killed 'by the hostile Indians' in the Missouri Territory."

The abstract of PAR Number 10182605, Alabama, 1826, Limestone County reads, "Free person of color Francis Hamlin purchased his daughter, Susan Locklear, from James Sims of Limestone County. Hamlin seeks to emancipate his daughter, who is married to Thomas Locklear, a free man of color."

One can also search for a specific individual or by a keyword, and can also request copies of petitions. Be sure to read "About the Digital Library" to learn more of this helpful resource.

Kentucky ancestors online

Kentucky Ancestors Online is a free website of the Kentucky Historical Society, found at

One can read recent feature articles and helpful how-to articles and learn of upcoming events. This website includes photos, family and government records, and helpful genealogical research information.

Although not emphasizing African-American research, this website's articles can assist anyone with an interest in this subject.

Illinois' Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad, but was a system that enabled escaped slaves from Southern states to reach safe havens farther north.

Nancy M. Beasley has written a detailed, documented book, "The Underground Railroad in DeKalb County, Illinois," based on county records and church records in DeKalb County. A book review written by Bobbi King states that the book includes abolitionists' names, "where they came from, and why they did what they did — (listing more than) 600 men and women with biographical paragraphs."

King writes, "The Underground Railroad was the term applied to a network of roads, paths, trails, and passageways where conductors (local residents who assisted the runaways) surreptitiously hid the runaways as they progressed from station to station. ... Abolitionist activists remain unnamed and lost to history" until now.

These excerpts were taken from Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, June 28, 2013.

Black history exhibit

The Illinois State Library, 300 S. Second St., Springfield, IL 62701, in celebration of Black History Month 2014 (the Golden Jubilee of the Civil Rights Act), is featuring a poster exhibit during the entire month of February, "Choosing to Participate Exhibit."

The exhibit is on the library's second floor and is available, free, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Also, from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 27 in the library's Illinois Authors Room on the first floor, Dr. Wesley G. McNeese, will review his novel, "South End Sunday Dawning: Come Rain, or Come Shine," which takes its readers to East St. Louis, during the pre-civil rights days.

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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