Identify the slaveholder

This guide was last updated in 2009

It is important to find the name of your enslaved ancestor’s master: records describe slaves by their first or 'plantation' name, and will usually name the owner or the estate; and most records are organised or indexed by the name of the slaveholder.

Also, the best place to find information about enslaved ancestors is among records relating to their owner. So how do you find out who the owner was?

  • Most records naming slaves usually also name the slave holder or give the address where the family lived;
  • Relatives may have useful information about where your family lived during the period of slavery;
  • You could look for slaveholders with the same surname as you ancestors;
  • If you know the estate or village where your family lived identify slaveholders in that area from directories, deeds, maps, tax lists, church registers, and slave registers etc.

Once you have identified possible slaveholders look for their private papers and other papers relating to property, which may name slaves and provide vital clues on individuals and their families. Private papers may have been deposited in the local Caribbean archives (you can find contact details here, or try searching the National Archives databases for private papers that have been deposited in the UK.

Slaveholders’ wills are particularly useful sources as they may include lists of slaves and their family relationships, they should also name slaves who were bequeathed or who they wanted to be freed.

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