Web site to post British colonial slave records

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The project will use registers the British government created between 1813 and 1834.

LONDON -- A genealogy Web site said Friday that it will post 3 million names of slaves held across the British Empire in the early 19th century, putting hundreds of thousands of pages of searchable information online to help slaves' descendants research their past.

The project will use registers that the British government created between 1813 and 1834 in an effort to stamp out the slave trade by ensuring plantation owners did not buy new slaves. Britain abolished the trade in 1807. Slavery itself was outlawed in the colonies 17 years later.

Information from about 700 registers from 23 British territories and dependencies will be made available online, free of charge, within the next 12 months, said Simon Ziviani, a spokesman for Ancestry.co.uk. The database will be searchable by first and last name, island, plantation, age and sex, he said.

One of the most exhaustive documents, the 1834 Barbados Slave Register, was posted online by the site Friday.

Slaves generally left few written records, making it difficult for their descendants to reconstruct their lives, Ziviani said.

"Hopefully [the database] will provide a missing piece of the puzzle," he said.

The site could help those outside Britain carry out research that might not have been possible otherwise, said Mia Morris, the founder of black historical and cultural Web site Blackhistory-month.co.uk.

Colonies were required to conduct censuses of slaves and their owners every three years. Records were kept on site and copies submitted to the Office for the Registry of Colonial Slaves. After the office was disbanded, some 200,000 pages of names were placed in the National Archives in Kew, in west London.

"Everyone I've talked to expressed frustration with going to the Caribbean and finding the records incomplete or missing," Morris said. She said delving through the archive's 19th-century paperwork was more daunting than simply browsing the Web.

Although estimates vary, researchers say tens of millions of African men, women and children were enslaved and shipped to the Caribbean and the Americas. Many of these were sent to British-controlled islands such as Barbados, where they were forced to work in plantations.

Ancestry.co.uk is part of a global network of genealogy sites providing over 5 billion records to the public. While some of its services are provided for free, members usually have to pay for access to census records and the site's message boards and photo service.

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