How African-Americans can unlock history, find lost family

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Photo credit: WTVR

RICHMOND, Va. — In the early 1800s, two women were moved more than 500 miles from their home in Caroline County, Virginia to Kentucky by the man who owned them, Anthony Thornton.

The women, named Jupiter and Kizzy, were slaves, and the latter survived slavery, living to age 112.

At least, that’s the story known to Robert Claxton Day, who posted to a message board on the Virginia Historical Society’s website.

Day said he was “researching my 3rd great-grandparents.”

“They were slaves to the Thornton family of Caroline County, Virginia in the late 1700s,” he said.

Day’s search, like so many people’s search for their African-American relatives, is daunting.

Even though they were first brought to modern day America in the 1600s, African-Americans were not counted as part of the U.S Census until 1870.

Many African-Americans only know about their ancestors pre-1870 through oral histories passed down through generations.

“After Emancipation and after the Civil War, enslaved people would choose their own last names, so that becomes another kind of wrench in doing your research. It’s a lot more difficult than getting on Ancestry.com,” Paige Newman, the Associate Archivist for Collections Processing with the Virginia Historical Society, said.

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