Court clerk begins digitizing slave records

DeKalb County Superior Court Clerk Debra DeBerry is spearheading an initiative to digitize records documenting the sale and purchase of enslaved persons in DeKalb County.

According to a news release, the goal of this project is to create an easily accessible online database where users can search and explore historical records pertaining to slavery in DeKalb … “which has often been overlooked due to the unfortunate loss of historical records during the campaigns of the Civil War era.”

Once completed, the project is expected to serve as a tool for historians to understand how enslaved individuals were part of the economic fabric that built the county and impacted the growth of the wider region and nation.

A spokesperson said the project is possible because the clerk’s office safeguards property records dating back to 1838 and that “this undertaking will provide a valuable resource for individuals seeking to uncover their family heritage.” However, “the extent and depth of this specific project … remain uncertain, as the available information relies heavily on the level of detail recorded.”

DeBerry said similar initiatives in the past have shed light on the documentation of enslaved persons, giving historians an idea of how to find such records. She said that during the slavery era, many property transactions list slaves as property alongside real estate owned by plantation owners and businesses.

Staff from DeBerry’s office said they already began the project with the court clerk’s property records and will eventually expand to records from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, DeKalb County Probate Court, and DeKalb History Center.

“We are embarking on a discovery mission about the history of DeKalb County and its ties to the antebellum period,” said DeBerry. “The immense contributions of many named and nameless African Americans continues to unfold, I believe it is important for my office to do its part in chronicling that history.”

Robert Patrick, who represents DeKalb County Board of Commissioners’ District 1, said he committed his support of this project by pledging funds to support the researchers who will review the records.

“In recognition of DeKalb’s 200th anniversary, I’m honored that my office can contribute to this historic and impactful records project being led by Clerk DeBerry,” said Patrick. “Understanding the full history of slavery and its impact is important to our county, especially as diverse as we are in DeKalb. While we can’t change the past, we can do our part to understand it, how it’s impacted who we are today, and continue the healing process.”

Other groups in DeKalb County have worked on similar projects. Emory University leads a project that documents slave voyages—and currently sits at more than 30,000 documented voyages—across the Atlantic Ocean, while DeKalb History Center also has population records pertaining to slavery.


One thought on “Court clerk begins digitizing slave records

  • February 4, 2024 at 12:05 pm

    This is interesting, and I for one have hoped this would happen, thanks to all who are working on this endeavor.


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