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AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum

Re: Nelson County VA plantations

The next problem we have as African Americans, attempting to trace our ancestors, is that "negros" don't appear in federal, or county records, for the most part, until after in 1865. Some ancestors get lucky, and appear in 1860, or even 1850, especially if they are "Mulatto".

If the "Darkies", as our Virginian owners referred to us as, lived long enough, they would appear in the 1870 census, once a former slave, but now listed as a cooper, railroader, miner, servant, houskeeper, or farm laborer.

In Nelson County, VA, negros, or "colored" aren't listed in the marriage registers, until 1878.

Our only true option, for getting the correct information about our ancestors, is either through the slave owner's wills, estates, diaries, and letters.

Even family lore, and stories can lead you off in the wrong direction.

My advice, is to try and contact the descendants of your family's owners (if you can prove that they were your family's owner), and ask for a copy of their ancestor's estate wills, and letters.

I was only able to find our family's detailed records of ownership, because a descendant, or descendants, of the Cabell, Carrington, Massie, Mayo and Cocke families donated these wills, diaries and letters, to the University of Virginia. I dug through records by the thousands to find the information I was seeking.

But, I knew in advance, who our owners were, as well as their inlaws, and family connections were. Through painstaking, time consuming, research of Chancery Suits, Freedman Records, Burial, and cemetery records, Military service records, birth and marriage records, personal interviews with my oldest living relatives, paying a personal visit to the birthplace and plantations of my ancestors (multiple times). And this was BEFORE getting access to estate wills, diaries and letters.

If you are unfamiliar with your ancestor's owners family and their history, it will be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The names and info on those old documents will be useless to you, Those names, will mean nothing.

There is no other way to accomplish the massive feat, in my opinion.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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