Good Genes Genealogy Services

Sad, yet necessary sources for African American ancestry researchers

The last place many African Diaspora ancestors want to research is through the study of slave sales. The writing and imagery are sadly powerful in the historical accounts of financial transactions and public spectacles involving slaves.

Yet, the mostly oddly written newspaper advertisements and posters, often offer great clues to African American, Caribbean American, Native American and European Blacks’ genealogy and ancestry links.

The best clues to tear down the “brick wall” research are found in the names on the ads by the slave owners. Their imprints are often with first and surnames and identities of their family members who would benefit from the sale. The ad below that was posted in the Savannah, Georgia newspaper in 1859, brought more than $300,000 in revenue for Joseph Bryan, whose name appears in the ad. That’s equal to more than $9 million in today’s dollars.

Also, the location of the sale helps to confirm the researchers are on the right track in identifying African Diaspora family members.

An advertisement published in The Savannah Republican on Feb. 8, 1859, by the slave dealer Joseph Bryan for a two-day auction that became the largest in history. Four hundred thirty-six men, women and children were sold for $303,850, equivalent to about $9.4 million today.(

The advertisements also include information that is helpful when comparing tax and estate records of enslavers and their sales agents. The ad below also includes a signature that is also important when ensuring the slave owners’ records including African Americans in bondage are accurately connected to genealogy documents.

The ad was published in 1851. In today’s economic terms, the $1,200 to $1,250 is equivalent to approximately $50,000 in today’s monetary terms.

In some instances — albeit rare — slave owners listed the first names and primary trade or unpaid work purposes of the African Americans they owned. This helps African American genealogy, history and ancestral researchers identify legacy relatives. In our genealogy research, typically the slaves’ surnames were those of their owners.

This sale also indicates that the slaves would be sold in families. Sadly and happily, this was considered a huge benefit to the African American enslaved population.