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Unknown No Longer Debuts!

Lauranett Lee

Lauranett Lee, Ph.D., curator of African American history.

Unknown No Longer is a database of the names of all the enslaved Virginians that appear in our unpublished documents. Thanks to a generous grant from Dominion Resources and the Dominion Foundation in January 2011, we launched the online database  in September 2011.  To recognize Black History Month, a series of workshops will be offered.

In 2011, I began working with our archival records with a single-minded focus on slavery. The Virginia Historical Society’s rich collections afford me the opportunity to look at a variety of documents that record the unknown, though not unnamed, people who were considered property.

To be candid, this is a hard subject to study. The onerous nature of slavery offends my sensibilities in every way. In fact, during graduate school my focus was on the Reconstruction era. Yet, when the opportunity to delve into our collections to extract the names of enslaved people was presented to me, I saw the lasting value in creating a genealogical tool to help people find their ancestors.

My days are spent poring over old documents, deciphering scrawl and chicken-scratch. If I am lucky I get a legibly written document, and if I am really lucky, I get a beautifully penned document. However they come to me I am humbled and honored to transcribe the names of so many people who deserve the dignity of identity.

Attend a workshop to learn how to use Unknown No Longer: A Virginia Slave Name Database. My colleague, Paige Newman, Assistant Archivist, and I will highlight some of their research findings and provide tips on how to navigate the database. Workshops are free and open to the public. Reservations are required and space is limited. To register for workshops online, visit

Join us at:
The Virginia Historical Society on Saturday, Feb. 4 @ 11 a.m.
The Hampton History Museum on Monday, Feb. 6 @ 6 p.m.
The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 21 @ 7 p.m.
The Staunton Library on Library on Wednesday, Feb. 22 @ 3 or 6:30 p.m.

Much thanks to Dominion for funding that made possible this project and the following workshops on how to use the database.

Dr. Lauranett Lee is the curator of African American History at the Virginia Historical Society.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 02/03/2012 1:16 pm

    Looking forward to a wonderful debut of Unknown No Longer….


  2. Joseph McGill, Jr. permalink
    02/04/2012 7:02 am

    Dr Lee,
    We’ve met, I’m the gentleman who travels around the US spending nights in extant former slave dwellings. Friday, October 5, I will be spending a night in the slave dwelling at Bacons Castle in Surry, Virginia. Staff at Bacons Castle is planning a lecture on the following day. I think this would be a great time to introduce your work to this area of Virginia. I would love to know your thoughts on this proposal.


  3. Lsjdesigns permalink
    06/10/2012 1:22 pm

    Wonderful opportunity to venture over that “wall”. I have a few names to add to your database if needed. Thanks again


  4. Monica Barks Elliott permalink
    02/11/2013 11:23 am

    Looking fot ingo on the BARKS family


  5. Lizzie permalink
    04/06/2013 10:31 pm

    I’m working on a project in Minnesota to try and document the people who were brought here as slaves in the 1840’s and attempting to find primary source documents of where they may have traveled after emancipation. I’m dealing with names on the 1857 Minnesota Territorial Census and there are a couple of unusual surnames given (i.e. Topsail). I have found some variations of that surname in the southwest corner of Virginia/West Virginia boarder. However, I did not see any slaves documented in that area of the state, according to your map. The slave owner’s name was Samuel Lewis Hayes and he was from Lewis County, Virginia.


  6. 04/11/2013 4:07 pm

    The slave population in southwest Virginia was much smaller than other areas and we are making efforts to transcribe documents from that area. Lewis County, in West Virginia, is not part of this database. It was annexed form Harrison county, Virginia in 1816.


  7. 04/23/2013 7:48 pm

    This is on a different subject. I came across your book The Making of the American Dream, while searching for the illusive James E. Mallonee junior high (or middle school). I also attended there during the same time frame as the interviewee, Jeanie Langford. My Dad was at Ft. Lee and we lived on what is now called Maplewood Avenue. 1015 to be exact. I was searching for the School on Google Earth. I found the apartment complex we lived in, walked at street level the route that seemed familiar and looked for the shape that I recognized. That sweeping horseshoe drive that the buses used to swing thru and drop off and pick up students. In another Google search, to see if the school was still in operation I found it mentioned in a number of places but your work cemented it for me.
    Now imagine a 12 year old from New Hampshire, dumped into that area, at that time. I came from Lisbon, NH were we had one ‘black family’, the Kimbers. Mr. Kimber was the plant manager at the local shoe manufacturing plant. Valerie was in my class, and her older brother “Kim” was a few years ahead of us. Lisbon had no segregation. So to see black students waiting until the last white kid got on the bus or for the last white girl to leave the bathroom before they could enter was unheard of to me. Mr. Ritter was my home room teacher. When I entered for the first time I headed for the only unoccupied desk . .I didn’t see the defined division of the colors. So I spent my homeroom time sitting with the ‘black kids’. Appropriate by Mr. Ritters standards as I was a “damn Yankee”, he considered it ‘where I belonged’.
    We never saw the black kids in our neighborhood area other than at the bus stop in the morning and again in the afternoon when we all got off the bus. They faded down the street took a right and ‘went down by the river’. I never went down by the river, until tonight, via Google Earth. I imagine in the 40+ years since I lived there that area has changed. The apartment building we lived in while there in 1968 still looks very much the same. A number of Army families lived in the same block as we did. Since their time at Ft. Lee was going to be short and no base housing was available at that time. Somewhere in my accumulation of books, pictures and memories . .I have a book that classmates from James E. Mallonee signed.
    Thank you for recording that snapshot of the years of 1967-68.


  8. 04/28/2013 11:52 pm

    Good day! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.

    Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on.
    You have done a extraordinary job!


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