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Proposed Naming Conventions

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Naming Conventions for US Enslaved Profiles

These naming conventions have been determined by the Black Heritage Project and are specifically for those people who were enslaved in the United States. Please refer to other location projects for non-US methods.

Intro

Researching and Documenting enslaved ancestors can be a challenge. Finding information previous to emancipation can be difficult, and connecting family members, locations, slave holders, and post-emancipation names takes time and patience.

Creating a WikiTree profile for an enslaved ancestor is the first step in narrating their life story.

A named enslaved ancestor is usually referenced in documentation related to their slave holder. The following method starts with the primary slave holder who has an existing WikiTree profile and documentation that lists the enslave ancestor by name.

An unnamed enslaved ancestor means there is no first name OR surname.

  • Documenting unnamed ancestors is extremely important. Sources listing enslaved people by sex, age, or occupation, can be the first step in finding the identity of someone‚Äôs enslaved ancestor. Documenting Unnamed Enslaved Persons details how unnamed enslaved people are can be listed in WikiTree.

Most enslaved ancestors didn't have chosen surnames but WikiTree profiles can't have a blank Last Name at Birth - LNAB field or just the terms "Slave" or "Unknown". This Project recommends using the slave holder surname in the Last Name at Birth field as a stop-gap solution intended to aid researchers.

The {{Slave LNAB}} template alerts researchers that the Last Name at Birth is using the slave holder name as a placeholder. When using a slave holder name in the LNAB field, copy {{Slave LNAB}} and paste just above the Biography header. The template displays this helpful warning:

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.

The following method gives examples of three groups of naming possibilities. These groups can't cover every scenario so researchers will have to use their own judgment. Also, they should not make assumptions. Formerly enslaved ancestors may or may not have taken the surname of a slave owner or parent and may have chosen to keep their surname secret or private. Additionally, their surname might have changed over time. Additional information about naming families, clans, plantations, and other enslaved groups can be found at: Enslaved Information.

Naming Conventions

Scenario 1. Enslaved / UnEmancipated / No Known Surname

Description: Create a profile based on a slave holder documentation listing the slave's given name. The slave holder name is used as preliminary information that may link to descendants and benefit researchers.
Examples:

  1. "Willie" is listed on Jim Smith's probate inventory
    • Proper First Name=Willie
    • Last Name at Birth=Smith
    • Current Last Name=Smith
    • Other Last Name(s):=
    • Add the template {{Slave LNAB}} just above the Biography header.
  2. "Sue" is listed on Jim Smith's Will bequeathed to Smith's married daughter Sally Jones
    • Proper First Name=Sue
    • Last Name at Birth=Smith
    • Current Last Name=Jones
    • Other Last Name(s):=
    • Entering the first holder name in the LNAB field and the second in the CLN field creates a chronology.
    • Add the template {{Slave LNAB}} just above the Biography header.
  3. "Lucy" is given by Jim Smith to his married daughter Martha Hill as a wedding present and Martha Hill sells Lucy to Walter Williams
    • Proper First Name=Lucy
    • Last Name at Birth=Smith
    • Current Last Name=Williams
    • Other Last Name(s):=Hill
    • Entering the first holder name in the LNAB field and the third/final in the CLN field shows a chronology of events. Any additional slave holder surnames can be added to the OLN field.
    • Add the template {{Slave LNAB}} just above the Biography header.
  4. Records show "Ned" as being owned or working at Georgetown University
    • Proper First Name=Ned
    • Last Name at Birth=Georgetown University
    • Current Last Name=Georgetown University
    • Other Last Name(s):=
    • If "owned" by a company or institution, use the company name or institution, Ex.: . Georgetown University, University of Virginia, etc.
    • Add the template {{Slave LNAB}} just above the Biography header.

Scenario 2. Enslaved with Known Surname

Description: Create a profile based on an enslaved ancestor's personal surname and at least one slave holder name. The enslaved person might not have chosen the personal surname themselves, however, it is often useful when linking enslaved family members owned by the same or related slave holder.
Examples:

  1. "John Green, Sally his wife, Young John, son" are listed on Jim Smith's probate inventory. Each profile has its own first name and then follows this format:
    • Proper First Name=John
    • Last Name at Birth=Green
    • Current Last Name=Green
    • Other Last Name(s):=Smith
    • Entering the slave holder name in the OLN field may assist researchers.
    • In lieu of a maiden name for Sally, the married name is used in the LNAB and CLN fields. Entering a note in the Biography section that the LNAB is the married name is helpful and entering the slave holder name in the OLN field may assist researchers.
  2. "Sam" is listed as the son of Mariah Butler, with no father listed, on Jim Smith's probate inventory
    • Proper First Name=Sam
    • Last Name at Birth=Butler
    • Current Last Name=Butler
    • Other Last Name(s):=Smith
    • Entering the slave holder name in the OLN field may assist researchers.

Scenario 3. Emancipated with Known Surname

Description: Create a profile based on an emancipated person's chosen surname. If the surname appears for the first time on 1870 census this is very likely the first time they have had a "real" last name which they chose themselves. Information about previous slave holder(s) can be added if available.
Example:

  1. "George Hamett" in the 1870 Census and is also listed on Walter Lewis' Probate inventory as "George Ellis"
    • Proper First Name=George
    • Last Name at Birth=Hamett
    • Current Last Name=Hamett
    • Other Last Name(s):=Ellis, Lewis
    • The 1870 surname is most probably the chosen name and is used in the LNAB field to show respect. Adding the earlier surname to the OLN with the slave holder name may assist researchers.

Changing the Last Name At Birth - LNAB

It is important not to change the LNAB every time a new surname is discovered.

  • It's best to wait to identify the first known surname whether the person was born with the surname or chose it upon emancipation.
  • Changing the LNAB changes the WikiTree ID for the profile. Changing the Proper First Name, Current Last Name, or Other Last Name(s) does not change the WikiTree ID.

Examples:

  1. A researcher creates a Profile for "Oliver" listed in the will of slave holder Owen Walters and later connected to "Oliver Washington" on the 1870 Census
    • Initial Profile:
      • Proper First Name=Oliver
      • Last Name at Birth=Walters
      • Current Last Name=Walters
      • Other Last Name(s):=
    • Updated Profile:
      • Proper First Name=Oliver
      • Last Name at Birth=Washington
      • Current Last Name=Washington
      • Other Last Name(s):=Walters
      • The 1870 surname is most probably the chosen name. It is now used in the LNAB and CLN fields. Moving the slave holder surname to the OLN may assist researchers.
      • The {{Slave LNAB}} can be deleted.
  2. A researcher creates a Profile for "Mary Ann Thompson" based on the 1870 Census where she is listed married to Samuel Thompson and later finds the will of slave holder Richard Barnes listing "Mary Ann Fields".
    • Initial Profile:
      • Proper First Name=Mary Ann
      • Last Name at Birth=Thompson
      • Current Last Name=Thompson
      • Other Last Name(s):=
    • Updated Profile:
      • Proper First Name=Mary Ann
      • Last Name at Birth=Fields
      • Current Last Name=Thompson
      • Other Last Name(s):=Barnes
      • Profiles for women are routinely updated in WikiTree when the maiden name is discovered. The slave holder name in the OLN field may assist researchers.

FAQs

Have descendants of slaves seen and agreed on these naming conventions?
Yes, descendants of slaves helped write these naming conventions.

If an enslaved person has a white father, shouldn't his last name be the LNAB?
Not unless the enslaved person has specifically chosen that name. Historically, when a child was born out of wedlock, they received the mother's last name, not the father's. But in this case, the mother may not have a last name. Therefore, whichever name the person chooses for themselves will be the LNAB.

What if I've already used the old convention of Unknown for the LNAB? Because we don't want to change the LNAB often, make sure a new LNAB is valid and that there is no other information for the person's initial surname.

Additional Resources

USBH Project Resource Pages

Email Your Info

  • If you or a friend would like to send us documentation or other information about an enslaved ancestor, just email: wikitrees-usbh-exchange at googlegroups.com - replace the at with @





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