In a significant breakthrough for Black people looking to trace their ancestry back as a far as possible, a new website will allow millions of African-Americans to access previously unavailable records from a federal database with information dating all the way back to the days of slavery, The Guardian reports.

Since African-Americans were not included in the U.S. census count until 1870, those who had previously tried to trace their ancestry back beyond that point were unable to do so. Black people were also legally regarded as property rather than persons up until 1865 (no, we’re not kidding), so many of the records that will be made available through the new website are even handwritten.

Genealogy specialist Hollis Gentry recently elaborated on the announcement of the project with these comments:

“The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom. You can look at some of the original documents that were created at the time when these people were living. They are the earliest records detailing people who were formerly enslaved.

We get a sense of their voice, their dreams. I predict we’ll see millions of living people find living relatives they never knew existed. That will be a tremendous blessing and a wonderful, healing experience.”

Several organizations are currently working together to digitize the handwritten records and get the project finished, with an expected completion date of late 2016 that will coincide with the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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  • Me

    i hope these records are made free to the public. i get tired of the paid services that pop up asking folks for money just to learn their family tree. unfortunately for me, my family tree goes through the caribbean, so getting accurate information w/o paying for every little clue has been a major road block.

    • Chazz A

      I agree, the services should be provided free to everyone. I also face a similar dilemma because my great- great- grandfather was Caribbean.
      I think this could be a great program as long as it doesn’t get exploited.

    • binks

      Agreed! We already lost so much of our heritage, culture and family history unwillingly that these should be a matter of free public records for anybody willing and wanting to do the research. It should be up to the individual if they want to pay someone else to aid them in their search if they have trouble narrowing down some aspects. But this is a wonderful tool and would be useful to recover family ties.

    • You’re absolutely correct. Many of our people have difficulty in finding out more information about their ancestors a century or more ago. It is only recently when DNA testing has existed to trace people’s ancestry back to Africa. The more available technology is that allows black people to look at family records the better. These records being made free to the public is a very right thing to do. Knowing about our past prodigiously is very important just like us mapping out strategies in order for us to build up a better future.

  • Anonin

    It should be free since technically its America’s fault why most AA don’t know their background history/roots.

  • Rizzo

    ” … Black people were also legally regarded as property rather than persons up until 1865 … ”
    what’s really heartbreaking are the slave schedules. in a few instances, the names of slaves were listed, but for the most part, the name of the owner was listed followed by the number of each slave, the slave’s age, sex, and color (usually listed as b for black or m for mulatto), whether the slave was a fugitive, the number manumitted, whether the slave was deaf and dumb, blind, insane or idiotic … slaves over 100 years of age were sometimes listed by name.