Who Was My Enslaved Ancestor’s Owner?

Tracing Your Roots: A reader needs help focusing her search in North Carolina.

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Consulting Newspaper and Historical Archives

Once you have Cain Dick’s date of death, you can search local newspapers for his death notice or obituary, which may provide you with the names of his parents or other siblings. There are several subscription websites that provide access to digitized copies of a number of newspapers, including GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com and NewspaperArchive.com. The Library of Congress provides free access to a number of newspapers, including those published in North Carolina, through its collection Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

In addition to online sources, many local libraries have area newspapers available on microfilm. For those who are unable to visit a particular library, many librarians offer photocopying services and will provide you with a copy of death notices or obituaries.

Local and county archives and historical societies are also valuable resources for conducting research on your ancestors and their former owners. The Government and Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina has a number of records available on microfilm, including wills, deeds and tax lists, which are available through interlibrary loan. The holdings of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill include the North Carolina Collection and the Southern Historical Collection.

Many local libraries also have a local history or genealogy collection that may be of use to you in your research, both for the family of Cain Dick and for his former owner. You have a challenge ahead of you, but plenty of options for further research. Good luck!

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

This answer was provided in consultation with Eileen Pironti, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.