Kickoff Planned on Aug. 26 at Historic Oak View County Park
The Wake County Register of Deeds Office and Shaw University are partnering on a project to unlock the secrets of dozens of property deeds to help better reveal the human stories of slavery in our area. The Enslaved Persons Project is a massive effort to catalog, transcribe and make public the records from more than 30 deed books containing bills of sale and property exchanges to allow hundreds of people to track the history of their families.
“Many people don’t realize that enslaved people were not issued birth certificates or marriage certificates, instead property deeds and bills of sale are sometimes the only written records of the lives of these men, women and children,” said Wake County Register of Deeds Tammy Brunner. “We want to make those records accessible and searchable online, because those are someone’s great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother – they were people, not property.”
At 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26, the public is invited to Wake County’s Historic Oak View County Park in Raleigh for a kickoff ceremony that will include historians, educators and real-world examples of how the records are helping piece together the histories of enslaved people and trace their paths through North Carolina.
The Enslaved Persons Project is part of a larger collaborative endeavor by the University of North Carolina Greensboro Libraries, North Carolina Division of Archives and Records, to create a centralized database of information about formerly enslaved people across all 100 counties in our state. Once complete, the community will have access to search these historic documents and high-resolution images.
Wake County has already scanned the deed books. Now, we need to enlist the help of students and volunteers to complete the next and most critical part of the project – extracting the names and vital information to index and humanize them. Shaw University leaders are excited about the partnership.
“This collaboration supports the interconnection between community, local government and the university through a public humanities project that gives us more insight into the lives of Black North Carolinians,” said Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, dean of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at Shaw University.
Dr. Erin Moore, the executive director of the Shaw University Center for Racial and Social Justice, agreed this project is more than just transcribing details from centuries-old documents.
“One of the ways in which we bring about racial healing and justice is to repair the wrongs brought about by the enslavement of African people,” Moore said. “Researching the names of the individuals enslaved in Wake County provides a greater context and understanding of their lives. This work is just one important step in bringing a sense of justice and peace to the families of those enslaved in our region."
The staff of Historic Oak View County Park, a former plantation, are particularly excited to host the project launch event on Aug. 26 and moreover to enjoy the fruits of the project.
"Using records on file at the Register of Deeds office, we have been able to uncover the names of several of the people who were enslaved on this property and trace their lives after emancipation,” said Emily Catherman Fryar, Historic Oak View County Park manager. “The opportunity to reclaim these stories has been transformative for the park and its visitors, many of whom are schoolchildren. These documents are the vehicle to bring these often-invisible stories back to the historical memory."
Once the project is complete, the Wake County Register of Deeds also hopes to have the deed book pages displayed for the public, either in book form or in a digital kiosk in their office, possibly becoming an educational school field trip destination. The digital deed information will be a valuable research tool for genealogists, historians and family members.