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Documenting Enslaved People in WikiTree

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WikiTree US Black Heritage Project Home Page
See: USBH Heritage Exchange Portal for more information on documenting slavery.

US Black Heritage Project's goal is to create a family profile for every enslaved ancestor named in every available document with the intention of honoring their lives and connecting them to their descendants.

WikiTree members do not need to join the US Black Heritage Project to employ the following methods of documenting slavery.


What You Need to Start

If you're an experienced WikiTreer, go to the Short Version of this page: Documenting Enslaved People -Short Version

  • You will need documentation listing the enslaved ancestor(s) by name, which means at least a first name. If you do not have a first name (such as in the case of someone listed with only an age on a slave schedule), please see How to Document Unnamed Enslaved People. Documentation might include wills, bills of sale, runaway slave ads, manumissions, mortgages, or inventories.

The example profiles that follow are real people who both owned slaves and were enslaved. They are sparsely populated with information to show the basic components of slavery documentation. As the project continues it is our hope that we will be able to add additional biographical information to the profiles and connect the enslaved ancestors with their descendants.

Create the Enslaved Ancestor Profile

Example Profile: Lucy Daniel

1. Go to the WikiTree menu, choose Add+. In the dropdown choose New Person.

2. In the form that appears, add the first name as given on the source document.
3. If a last name is not given, please use the last name of the slave owner named in the document as a placeholder. For more information on naming conventions, please refer to Naming Conventions for Slaves

  • If the document is a transfer of ownership from one owner to the next, use the first owner's last name as the Last Name at Birth and the second owner's last name as the Current Last Name field.

4. If an age is not given, use the date of the document and choose the "before this date" button. Explain the estimated birth date in the biography research notes.
5. Choose the gender if known.
6. If the birth location is unknown, use the location from the document. Do not enter a death date if you only have one document.
7. Add the source citation for the document in the source box.
8. Click the "Add New Person" button.

Example profile information from a will

  • Proper First Name: John
  • Last Name at Birth: Smith (first owner's last name)
  • Current Last Name: Johnson (second owner's last name)
  • Birth Date: before 12 March 1815 (no age was given in the document. This is the document date.)

Edit the Enslaved Ancestor Profile

You have created a profile for an enslaved ancestor! Now edit the profile to add additional crucial information.

1. Click the Edit tab.
2. If you used the birth location based on the document, click the uncertain button for the location.
3. Go to the Biography heading. If you used a slave owner's last name for the Last Name at Birth (LNAB) copy/paste {{Slave LNAB}} above the Biography heading. This notifies researchers the LNAB is a placeholder until a documented surname can be found. The template displays this box:

This enslaved ancestor's profile has a preliminary Last Name At Birth (LNAB) until a surname can be determined. Please see the US Black Heritage Naming Conventions for Slaves before merging or changing the LNAB.
4. Below the Biography heading copy/paste {{African-American Sticker}} which gives you
US Black Heritage Project
... ... ... is a part of US Black heritage.

5. Add a === Slave Owner === heading and list the name(s) of the slave owner below it.
6. Add a == Research Notes == heading to place notes regarding any estimated birth dates, locations, and the use of the slave owner's names as well as anything else you might know about the person.
7. Click Save.

Add Categories to the Enslaved Ancestor Profile

Adding categories to a profile puts the person in the US Black Heritage Project's Heritage Exchange system. To add categories, click the category button, then begin typing the name of the category.

Please add the following categories:

  • "USBH Heritage Exchange"
  • "County, State, Slaves" (if they were enslaved in more than one location, add a category for each location)
  • If you don't see a category by location you need, please ask in the USBH Project Google group, in the project's Discord channel, or on this post.

Create the Slave Owner Profile

Example Profile: Joseph Daniel In his will probated on 1 November 1800, he bequeathed slaves to his various children, specifically, bequeathing Dick to his son Nathan Daniel.

1. Perform a genealogy search to find additional sources for the slave owner if their basic information is not yet known. (such as birth date and birth location)
2. Perform a search on WikiTree to see if this person's profile already exists by using the first and last name search fields at the top of the WikiTree website. If the profile does not exist, continue to step 3. If the profile does exist, please skip to the next section (Edit the Slave Owner Profile).
3. Go to the WikiTree menu, choose Add+. In the dropdown choose New Person.
4. In the form that appears, add the first and last name as they appear in the source documents.
5. Add the birth and death dates (or estimated dates) based on the sources. Choose the correct radio button about the date based on what you know from the documents.
6. Choose the gender.
7. Add the location(s) from the document.
8. Add one of the the source citations in the source box. (you will add the rest later)
9. Click the "Add New Person" button.

Edit the Slave Owner Profile

You have created a profile for the slave owner. Now edit the profile to add additional crucial information.

1. Click the Edit tab.
2. Mark the birth and death locations as certain or uncertain based on what you know from the source documents.
3. Add a === Slaves === heading below the Biography heading and biographical information. List the name(s) of any known slaves below it. If the list is longer than 10, please go to the Slavery Document Pages section below to learn how to create a separate page for the list.
4. Add additional sources below the Sources heading
5. Click Save.
6. When adding a list of slaves to a profile, especially one you don’t manage, please add something similar to this in the comment section of the profile. You can copy/paste the same message, changing the name each time.

As a member of the US Black Heritage Project, I have added a list of the slaves owned by <insert name> on this profile with categories using the standards of the US Black Heritage Exchange Program. This helps us connect enslaved ancestors to their descendants. See [ the Heritage Exchange Portal] for more information.

(if you are not a project member, just remove the first few words)

Add Categories to the Slave Owner Profile

Adding categories to a profile puts the person in the US Black Heritage Project's Heritage Exchange system. To add categories, click the category button, then begin typing the name of the category.

Please add the following categories:

  • "USBH Heritage Exchange"
  • "County, State, Slave Owners" (if they held slaves in more than one location, add a category for each location)
  • If you don't see a category by location you need, please ask in the USBH Project Google group, in the project's Discord channel, or on this post.
  • Do add the Slave Owner category and === Slave Owner === subheader to a person who rented slaves. This may be genealogically useful to descendants of enslaved ancestors.

Add Document Transcriptions

If a transcription of a document is about a paragraph long, you can add it directly to the biography section under its own heading such as === Will of Joseph Daniel ===. However, if it is longer, it would best best to add that transcription to its own Free Space Page (FSP) using the following steps:

1. Go to the WikiTree menu, choose Add+. In the dropdown right click on New Thing. (this will allow you to have the Slave Owner's profile open in a separate tab)

2. Enter the Free Space Page name in the Title field: "Transcribed Will of" Slave Owner Name

3. Surname/tag fields are optional. The USBH Project uses categories in lieu of tags.
4. In the Text area, place the information about the document source at the top. Add a link to the person the document belongs to using a Wiki Link.

  • Example Wiki Link: [[Daniel-7857|Joseph Daniel]]

5. Click "Create This New Profile button."
6. Switch to the slave owner profile and click the edit tab.
7. Add the link to the newly created Free Space Page under the Sources heading using a FSP Wiki Link. The first part of the Wiki Link is copied from the second half of the page's URL.

  • Example: [[Space:Transcribed_Will_of_Joseph_Daniel|Transcribed Will of Joseph Daniel]]

Connecting the Slave Profiles to the Slave Owner Profiles and Pages

Once the slave owner(s) have been identified and their profile(s) have been created, they should then be linked on each enslaved ancestor's profile using a Wiki Link as seen below.

Copy, Paste, Modify Modified Example Displayed As
=== Slave Owners ===
* [[Wiki-ID|Name]]
* [[Wiki-ID|Name]]
=== Slave Owners ===
* [[Daniel-7857|Joseph Daniel]]
* [[Daniel-7875|Nathan Daniel]]

Slave Owners

  • Copy and paste everything in the first column including the *
  • To find the Wiki-ID for a profile, go to that profile and hover over the ID icon next to the name at the top. Click on it to copy the Wiki-ID. Then paste it into the Wiki Link code in place of "Wiki-ID".

Now link each enslaved ancestor on the list on the slave owner's profile using the same method as seen in the example below.

Copy, Paste, Modify Display Example Displayed As
=== Slaves ===
* [[WikiTree ID|Name]]
=== Slaves ===
* [[Daniel-7914|Dick Daniel]]


This same method can be used on Free Space Pages. If you have created a transcription page for any documents that name slaves, go to that page and use Wiki-Links in place of their names as each profile is created.

Slave Owner Space Pages

Free Space Pages are used at WikiTree as a place to contain all slavery information for each slave owner and as a workspace. The pages are especially useful when trying to identify unnamed slaves held by an owner. See Creating Slave Owner Space Pages for detailed information on creating and setting up these pages.

Slavery Documentation Links


  • Thank you to Dave Ebaugh who helped develop this slavery documentation process for WikiTree.
  • Thank you to Babs Deacon who helped articulate the process into WikiTree help pages.

Comments: 40

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I set up a profile for Henry Allen Hightower (abt.1831-abt.1860) and added a list of slaves. I didn't see a location category for Early County, Georgia Slave Owners. Also I realized too late that a separate page is required due the number of enslaved people. This will be corrected as I have more enslaved people to add to the list.
I see you found the category. No rush to create the slave owner page, you can use the profile as a workspace since you created the profile and are managing it. If it was managed by someone else I would recommend you create the page sooner. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. I am a team leader with the Slavery Team. Thank you for the work you are contributing!

Gina Jarvi

posted by Gina (Pocock) Jarvi
that was me who added it, I started writing an explanation here then had to go to dinner quickly ;-)
Hi - I added the Early County category (by typing "Early Georgia Slave....") into the category box, and it popped up. To add on to what Gina said, you can create the space page yourself, or you can add the needs space page category (just start typing that in the box, the right category will pop up) The USBH team will get to it.
When I come across a document (a will, usually) which lists enslaved persons that are both adults and children, I hesitate to automatically assume relationships between them. (I have come across bills of sale for children alone, too).

If a mother/child or husband/wife relationship is noted, of course I create a profiles that show this and link the family members.

But what if it’s not clear? If there is one child-bearing aged woman and several young children enslaved in one household… do I assign her as the children’s mother? Or just link to her in their bio as the likely mother? (And them as her likely children)?

I feel that it is important to show where possible relationships exist. But what is the best way?

posted by Jana Shea
I generally link them in the bio as opposed to making them mother/child, unless that’s explicitly stated. But occasionally I do attach what I think is an implied parent-child relationship, like if like if a will says "Betsy and child Ginny" or something like that. (Editing to add: basically use your best judgment, sounds like you are! :) )
posted by Elaine (Weatherall) Martzen
edited by Elaine (Weatherall) Martzen
Was working on some unsourced profiles and found a source that included the inventory of a man's estate and that inventory included enslaved persons. I added the details to the profile, then tried to add appropriate categories.

For whatever reason, the Warren Co, NC slaveowner category did not show up in the drop down menu, so I "created" it manually, following the format of other NC county categories for slave owners. But when I was done, I saw on the NC Slaveowners category page that Warren County already existed and now it exists twice. Not sure how that happened; the names appear identical. My apologies for creating work for you, as I'm not sure how to fix the problem I created.


Warren County, North Carolina Slave Owners (0, 18, 1) < - - This appears to be a pre-existing category that di not appear in the drop down menu on the Edit page

Warren County, North Carolina, Slave Owners (0, 1, 0) < - - This is the one I created by accident

Profile in question:

EDITED TO ADD: This is Jillaine logged into the NA project account; sorry about that. My bad.

Jillaine, I'll have a look and merge the duplicates. Emma
Jillaine, you actually fixed a problem because the original didn't have the right commas. So this works out!
Ah, I missed the missing comma.... Well, glad that all this led to fixing things.
posted by Jillaine Smith
I have two questions, both stemming from the Estate inventory of

1) When creating profiles for enslaved people, is it proper/helpful to list the monetary value which they were appraised at in their profiles? 2) Is there anything special that should be added, or particularly proper phrasing, when an enslaved person is listed as a "mulatto"? Thank you!

posted by Alan Radecki
Hi Alan, these are good questions. Yes, it's acceptable to put their value in the biography. This might tell us something about them based on how much they were valued at. It is also acceptable to say they were listed as mulatto. This information can also be helpful. As long as we are stating information straight from a document and not trying to interpret it, it's okay. In the biography, you could quote exactly how they were described in the document. Emma
Is it OK to edit a Wikitree profile, (not being the profile manager) if there are records (and especially if already part of the profile) that indicate that the profile person owned slaves? I'm thinking of a profile of an early VA settler whose family got into a legal dispute over the inheritance of 3 enslaved people). Profile ID: Dancy-43

The profile manager hasn't made any reference to them being a slave owner. I'm asking because there may be specific individual sensitivities around this Thanks Roz

posted by Roz (B) Roberts
Yes, go ahead and edit. Please add Category:USBH Heritage Exchange. As a courtesy to the PM, it’s nice to leave a comment (it will go to their email) with "I have added categories and slave information using US Black Heritage Project guidelines," or something to that effect. You can see this page, toward the bottom, with an example with an embedded link to our page for their convenience. (Note- if there are more than ten slaves, or just generally a lot of info about the slaves, create a space page or add Category:USBH Heritage Exchange, Needs Space Page ) Thank you! Feel free to leave comments here or message me with any other questions!
posted by Elaine (Weatherall) Martzen
edited by Elaine (Weatherall) Martzen
I'm finding this helpful as I've come across Jamaican (Black/Creole) enslaved people and slave owners n my family research. Most of what's here I can follow and use for consistency in the profiles etc. However, step 4 says: "Below the Biography heading copy/paste
US Black Heritage Project
... ... ... is a part of US Black heritage.
which gives you...( image of the US Black Heritage project. But, that would be confusing as the profiles I'm creating/working with weren't US but Jamaican. So can you create another category that links enslaved people in eg the Caribbean, to the wider enslaved people database/project? It's important to be able to both include enslaved people from countries other than US, and also be able to distinguish their individuality. In the same way it's important to be able to include Caribbean slave owners. Since slavery itself was abolished sooner in the Caribbean (1833/34) than in the US, there is much more difficulty in connecting enslaved people's descendants.


posted by Roz (B) Roberts
Hi Roz, you can leave off the Af-Am sticker, and use this category (add the brackets, this comment system won’t let me show them) Category:Jamaica, Slave Owners and Category:Jamaica, Slaves. And thank you for doing this work! This page might provide a bit more information you’d like, it’s connected to those categories I mentioned.
posted by Elaine (Weatherall) Martzen
edited by Elaine (Weatherall) Martzen
We do have a Jamaica sticker you can use on Jamaican profiles

Born in Jamaica: Jamaican ancestors:

I am unsure of how to represent descendants of a slave owner and his female slaves. Specifically, I am not sure how to indicate the relationships. It was something akin to "marriage" but should be a different category seeing how the slaves had no choices in the relationship and it is likely that weddings were not involved. Please see the list of names of slaves about whom we know:

What is the best way to indicate these relationships? Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.

posted by Marion Ceruti Ph.D.
edited by Marion Ceruti Ph.D.
Hi Marion, the way we handle this is we add the slave owner as the father of the children in question and the enslaved mother as the mother. We then make sure the two parents are disconnected as spouses (the system will often automatically connect them as spouses) since they were not in a marital relationship. Then, we add a little note in each parent's biography that they had children with the other parent with a link to their profile. There are a few rare cases where the enslaved mother lived as a common-law spouse with the slave owner. In that case they would be attached as spouses. But like I said, this is very rare and almost never happens. Thanks!
Do you want people to create profiles for enslaved individuals that we come across in the course of doing other work? Or only when we have solid information on the slave holders?

I was doing some land record research for my own people today, but while I was doing that, I happened to see two emancipation deeds that were unrelated to my work. I would be very happy to create profiles for these individuals, but I really have nothing more than the information in the emancipation papers (name, age, name of previous owner, residence). Please let me know and I will be happy to either create the profiles --or not -- as you think best.

Many thanks! --Kathleen

posted by Kathleen (Hill) Tesluk
Hi Kathleen, Yes please, if you can make profiles for the enslaved people based on records you come across--especially if they have an age, that would be wonderful. If you don't have a birth location, I usually use the location of the document and mark it uncertain and note that in the biography. Just make sure to add the Heritage Exchange category to put them in our system. Thanks! Emma
Slave - Who owns the slave. There are many cases where slaves are bequeathed to children or grand-childen of the slave owner.

In the examples, slaves given to female daughters have the daughter indicated as the slave owner. However, by law, if the daughter is married, the slaves belong to her husband and will occur in documents assigned to him. Similarly for a granddaughter, the slave probably belongs to her father or subsequent husband if she marries.

The current method is workable as sources are not actually linked to the source files as they are in Family Search. However, it is good to remember to search for slave records in the documents of husbands and fathers.

posted by LG Price
edited by LG Price
good point.

We've left it up to the individual WTeer. I've started to list the slaves held by wives in the husband's profiles for the reason you mentioned. I have a female ancestor whose will I just received that owned slaves in her own right and they are listed in her husband's will as not belonging to him. I will add some kind of link to the husband's profile so that these folks are easier to find. I have been able to connect the enslaved family on the list to their post emancipation lives so I want to put all of that together.


posted by Babs Deacon
Thanks for the reply Babs. I’ve watched webinars addressing The Law with respect to Women, and one on the Laws affecting Slaves. But I have not seen anything that addresses the laws as it pertained to slaves passed down in bequeaths.
posted by LG Price
I don't think it's a legal issue, per se. As a practical matter, if a person holds slaves then all of the other family members are going to interact with those slaves and are all part of a kind of group story.

Most importantly, The more info a researcher/historian/genealogist can leave in their records, the more connections can be made by future researchers. It's part of the FAN method in reverse. We think of FAN as a method that people use to find ancestors by researching everyone/thing around them but it also pertains to documenting a person with info about the people around them.

I can't think of a downside to adding info about enslaved people to a spouse's profile with a note that the slaves were "officially owned" by the other spouse.

I have an ancestor who willed an enslaved person to a niece, in trust, to the niece's son. So even though the niece doesn't "hold title" to the enslaved person (or whatever they would have called it) she is the de facto owner while her son is a minor. This all became really important because it looks like this particular enslaved person was hired out to the UVa while the minor son was at the college. So all of that info fits into the puzzle to identify the enslaved person, Edward, after emancipation.

posted by Babs Deacon
Hi! As I am working through these, I'm finding many that don't have categories for Slave or Slave Owners. In Categories, my county, Washington County, Maryland does not have a Slaves category. It does have a Slave Owner category. Can an admin add a Slave category to Washington County, Maryland? For Tyler County, Virginia there is neither a Slave Owner or Slave sub-category. I get the message "The action you have requested is limited to users in the group Supervisors." Many thanks for any assistance.
posted by Kelley Conner
edited by Kelley Conner