Slave Ancestry

Harriet & Slave Ancestry

December 1, 2020

Abolitionist Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) stands with a group of formerly enslaved people she helped lead to freedom. Photo: Bettmann/Getty


Russell Contreras

A database that gathers records about the lives of enslaved Africans and their descendants is undergoing a massive, crowdsource-powered expansion to unlock Black Americans’ genealogical histories, organizers tell Russell Contreras.

  • Why it matters: The initiative, to be unveiled today by, is the latest to reconstruct lost or incomplete timelines and records from the 1600s-1800s, as the U.S. and other nations reckon with systemic racism.

How it works: The general public and outside researchers can submit family histories, runaway slave ads, or documents of purchase to

  • Users can search their names and town histories and connect the experiences of enslaved people, from voyages to the changing of names.

First look: Slavery ancestor project expands

Whatthey’resaying: Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor, founder of the National Black Cultural Information Trust, said African Americans have long sought to reclaim their past amidst hostility.

  • “Even after the Civil War, former enslaved people put ads in newspapers looking for lost family members,” she said. “This website is a continuation of that tradition as we look for our past and family but this time in a digital space.

We shouldn’t wait another 10 years to see Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill | Quigley


This is the year we were supposed to get new $20 bills featuring a portrait of Harriet Tubman.  I can’t say it would have been perfect timing because having a woman on American currency was already long overdue, but it sure is a really bad time for a postponement.


The timing was originally planned to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this month, granting women the right to vote.  The new bill design was shown in 2011 while Barack Obama was still president, and the bill was supposed to hit banks in March 2020.

But even before he was elected, Trump opposed the idea of taking Andrew Jackson off the twenty.  He is one of Trump’s heroes so he proposed putting Tubman on the $2 bill, you know, the one that’s barely in circulation any more.  He felt putting her on any bill was “pure political correctness.”


he still supports Jackson, whose racism wasn’t limited to African-Americans but included Native Americans, as well.  He recently took strong action to ensure Jackson’s statue remains standing just outside the White House.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, almost as soon as he was appointed, agreed to stall.  The women’s suffrage anniversary is coming soon with no Tubman twenties.


Meanwhile, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, where Tubman was born, wrote a letter to Mnuchin urging him to speed up the process.  Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, introduced a bill directing the Treasury to print Tubman’s portrait on all $20 bills starting in 2021.

“The Trump administration’s indefinite postponement of this redesign is offensive to women and girls, and communities of color, who have been excitedly waiting to see this woman and civil rights icon honored in this special way.  The needless foot-dragging on this important effort is unacceptable.  Our currency tells our country’s story and it is past time to honor the contributions of Harriet Tubman,” Shaheen said.

Symbols do matter.  Maybe now more than ever.

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