Genealogy Web site adds slave manifests, letters

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Records of more than 30,000 slaves shipped to New Orleans, copies of more than 20,000 letters to and from Abraham Lincoln, and records of 4.2 million Civil War soldiers are going online for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

Most will be available only to Ancestry.com’s 925,000 paying subscribers, but the Lincoln letters and speeches, provided by the Library of Congress, will be free.

An index of the slave manifests also will be free, once volunteers have created it from the scanned images being added to the site Thursday, said Gary Gibb, vice president for content for the family of sites.

That will be extremely valuable to historians as well as people interested in their family history, said Christopher Harter, director of library and reference services at the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University’s African-American history archive.

“It’s one thing to digitize and put the image up on the Web. But it’s of far greater value to have the information transcribed and searchable by those who are doing the research,” he said.

The manifests, from 1810 through 1860, “document the movement of slaves from the mid-Atlantic states to the Deep South because of the cotton gin and the need for millions of slaves to work the cotton fields,” said Lisa Arnold, Ancestry.com’s expert in African-American genealogy.

There are three documents for each ship, including the shipmaster’s signed statement that he is not importing slaves – a practice that Congress banned in 1808.

“He’s putting his name on the line that he’s not importing them, simply shipping them from one port in the United States to another,” she said.

Because the number on each ship varied, she didn’t know exactly how many slaves were involved but estimated the number was between 30,000 and 50,000.

The other documents also should be interesting to scholars and history buffs, Harter said.

The database of Civil War soldier profiles – including 17,000 photographs – was created by “a Civil War buff who has been collecting that kind of thing for years,” company spokesman Mike West said.

In addition, the site was adding a collection of requests for presidential pardons from more than 15,000 former Confederate soldiers and government officials, and applications from 60,000 Confederate soldiers or their widows for pensions from the state of Georgia.

The state has some Confederate pension records available on its Web site. Ancestry.com is providing a complete digital collection to the Georgia state archives, Ward said.

Anne Smith, spokeswoman for the Georgia Secretary of State, said Georgia should have those records on the Web within weeks.

Source: Nola.com