In what may be an important move to reconcile modern Western society with its slave-owning past, genealogy and family history site Ancestry.co.uk has launched an online archive with the historical records of nearly 100,000 slaves owned by British colonists in Barbados during the early 1800s.
“With few relevant collections online, it has not been easy for those with ancestors from former British colonies or territories to research their black family history,” said Ancestry.co.uk spokesperson Simon Harper, in a statement. “Ancestry.co.uk’s new collection will help bridge major historical gaps for many people.”
The current archive consists of the first part of the Former Colonial Dependencies’ Slave Register Collection, and will eventually expand to detail an estimated three million slaves. The records stem from the Abolition of Slave Trade Act, passed in 1807, which criminalized trading slaves from Africa to the British colonies and territories. Plantation owners were required to complete a slave register every three years from 1812 onward; no slaved could be sold, transported, or bought, or inherited without being registered. The registers are currently kept at The National Archives, and contain over 180,000 pages of names.
Ancentry.co.uk’s current offering centers on the 1834 Barbados Slave Register, which contains information on 99,349 slaves and 5,206 slave owners, and in some cases contains information on the slaves’ ages and birthplaces. The online archive also includes the English Settlers in Barbados, 1637–1800 collection, which contains records of marriages, baptisms, and wills for about 200,000 British settlers and their descendants. The service plans to add slave records from additional colonial dependencies including the Bahamas, Jamaica, South Africa, and Ceylon.
“As few records exist which document the lives of individual slaves,” said Harper, “the Former British Colonial Dependencies’ Slave Register Collection, 1812-1834 will for many be the only record of their ancestor ever having existed and so represents a vital resource for everyone with or interested in researching slave ancestry.”
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain.