During the slavery era in Kentucky, many religious institutions kept records that mentioned the names of enslaved people. Sometimes they were simply listed in church registers as part of the household of its members. And sometimes it meant that enslaved people were included in the various religious rites of that religion (e.g. baptism, confirmation, marriage, death).
Reckoning, Inc. has spent the past couple of years looking for such records, both online and in local archives. So far, the most sophisticated resource we have found is a set of church records for Catholic parishes in Central Kentucky that were translated from the original Latin, mostly by one Catholic priest named Father John Lyons. While some churches additionally kept records for marriages and burials, we have for now been focusing our attention on baptismal records, as the information contained within them is particularly rich for African Americans seeking to learn the identities of their enslaved ancestors.
These Catholic baptismal records generally include the name of the child, the name of the mother, the name of the mother’s enslaver, and at least one sponsor (Godparent). In addition, some records also include the name of the father and the father’s enslaver. Given this detailed information, it is possible to identify many family groups with at least a mother and her children, and sometimes also including the father.
To demonstrate the power of this resource, our staff has digitized the records for two major Louisville-area churches: the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, and St. Catherine in New Haven (Nelson County). These records have been placed in a database that can be searched, both by children’s and enslaver’s names, and browsed, by church and by county (see Database Tools on left).
As funding permits, we will add additional records from all of the 16 Catholic Churches for which we have translations, and begin transcribing and digitizing similar records kept by scores of other churches across Kentucky–including those associated with Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and other denominations. If you or your congregation would like to make a donation to support this work, you can do so here.