AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum
Researching Manumissions or "Free Papers"
Whenever researching manumission papers, you have to know the laws that governed legal manumission. These laws varied
To research state laws ideally you should have access to a good law library (at a courthouse, law school, or research archive in the state). Alternatively, Google the subject, and you may find that a historian or genealogist has published a book, article, or online guide describing the applicable laws. Perhaps, even, the Google Books project may have scanned the nineteenth century laws for your target state.
Legal references usually have good indexes. Look up "manumission" and read all the applicable citations. Note what years each law was in effect, and how laws changed over time. Take particular notice how and where manumissions were to be documented.
Example of a primary source: _Thomas R. R. Cobb, A Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Georgia . . ._ (Athens, Ga.: 1851) is an example of a primary legal source available online. Follow this link: http://books.google.com/books?id=Tx9FAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=cobb+digest+of+the+laws+of+georgia+1851#v=onepage&q=&f=false
Example of a secondary source: Ruth Scarborough, _The Opposition to Slavery in Georgia prior to 1860_ (Atlanta: George Peabody College for Teachers, 1933) is an example of a secondary source that introduces readers to manumission laws in Georgia.
Georgia, for example, the state passed a law, approved December 5, 1801, that said:
So, how much time should researchers spend looking for "free papers" recorded in Georgia courts after 1801? Probably not much.
Based on the law, where should Georgia researchers look?
The only LEGAL manumissions in Georgia after 1801 can be found in the private laws passed by each legislative session. Private laws (those laws that benefit only individuals in personal matters like legitimation of children, divorces, tax relief, and manumissions) are not generally included in legal digests or compilations. Finding these usually involves browsing the indexes of each year of published laws. For Georgia, Ruth Scarborough's book, _The Opposition to Slavery in Georgia prior to 1860_, is handy because it lists or describes most of the legal manumissions for the state. This book is available in many libraries.
To summarize: Before looking for manumissions, research the applicable laws to learn what kinds of manumissions were authorized and where these would have been recorded. Laws varied by time period and from state to state.
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