I’m seeking a bit of guidance. For the past year or so, I have been working on a project that needs a bit of direction. For the past year or so, I have combed through newspapers and court records in southern Georgia between 1845 and 1865 to extract information on the region’s enslaved population. This began as a side-project/hobby as I worked on other projects. I am a Civil War historian, not a historian of slavery per se. But as those projects near their end, this one has captured my attention and begun to assume a life of its own.
The newsprint information is similar to the many runaway slave ad projects that are on the web: names, ages, physical descriptions, enslavers’ names, locations, rewards, markings and injuries, etc. Court records are also yielding names, ages, owners, locations, as well as sales and appraisal valuations, inheritance patterns, and enslaved family groupings (sometimes across three generations). Unlike the existing runaway slave ads, I have not recorded these using a content management system like Omeka. Instead, I am creating a relational database in Excel with the hope that it can serve as the basis for an Access database (once I learn it) or some other database management system that would allow those more fluent in computational methods might find useful. To date, I have surveyed half of the available records and amassed over 10,000 enslaved people's names and data.
The issue I am running into is that I see no clear path to completion. I enjoy the process in which I find myself engaged, but, not being a historian of slavery, the possibilities of the end product elude me. How would I “publish” such a database? Is such a database valuable? What kinds of questions are out there that such a database might serve? Is there value in producing such a database simply under the hope that others might find research inspiration from it? In my mind, I can envision an extension of the data that linked detailed demographic information on slaves with white property ownership patterns to produce GIS-maps of slave distributions, ownership transfers, family stability and continuity, but, again, we’re getting into areas about which I know little.
Any suggestions and comments would be greatly appreciated.