House passes online database for slave records

The House passed a bill late Jan. 22 to preserve the historical records of slaves and emancipation by posting those records on a national online database.

The bill passed 414-1. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) cast the lone dissenting vote. The Senate must now consider the measure.

The Preservation of Records of Servitude, Emancipation and Post-Civil War Reconstruction Act (H.R. 390) requires the National Archives to establish an electronic database for the public to keep records from the Southern Claims Commission, the Freedman’s Bank, slave payrolls and slave manifests.

Many federal agencies already have these records, which will be used to form the database.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who introduced the legislation Jan. 10, said the lack of well-catalogued birth, death and marriage records has hindered research into black Americans’ family histories.

Genealogists and descendants of these families have to identify former slave owners’ names and hope the owners kept birth and death records. Even then, most of these records are often inaccessible or poorly maintained, Lantos said.

The bill also gives grants to state and local entities to build similar catalogs. It proposes $5 million to build the database and another $5 million for grants.

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