Origins Expand

Slave record database is now the most complete available

Going Live: Former project manager Elizabeth Milewicz (from left), adviser Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson, and project director David Eltis prepare the database for launch.
Bryan Meltz

The African Origins website, launched at Emory last year with the names of ten thousand Africans liberated from the slave trade in the nineteenth century, has added the names of more than eighty thousand African captives to the site, making it the largest and most comprehensive record of the identity of individuals caught up in the slave trade to the Americas. Researchers are inviting those who recognize African names to share which modern country, language, and culture uses the name today. Woodruff Professor of History David Eltis, project leader, says they will use the identifications made by visitors to the site to construct a geographic profile of the origins of the African captives.

For most of the duration of the slave trade, once a person was forced onto a slaving vessel, his or her identity and history were effectively lost, says Eltis. But after the slave trade was outlawed in 1807, authorities began intercepting illegal slave transports, and for the first time maritime courts recorded the African captives’ true names. Registers containing information on more than ninety thousand individuals survived in the national archives of Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom; it is these records that researchers have been recreating on the website.

“The database contains the names and records of Africans found on board 515 different slave vessels captured between 1808 and 1862,” Eltis says. “There are records of captives leaving from and arriving at every significant slaving port on either side of the Atlantic.”

They have been able to identify the modern ties of nearly twenty-five thousand names, Eltis says. “With help from the public, we expect that we will be able to establish the origins of those of African descent in the Americas with an unprecedented degree of clarity and precision.”

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