How FamilySearch will help recover the names of 10 million enslaved Africans

The 10 Million Names project will build a free database that encompasses the Transatlantic Slave Trade period

An estimated 10 million people of African descent were enslaved in pre- and post-colonial America.

Now, FamilySearch and genealogical society American Ancestors are seeking to restore their identities to their descendants.

The 10 Million Names project launched in August 2023, and FamilySearch announced their involvement on Feb. 15. American Ancestors will also share the project’s story on the main stage at RootsTech on Friday, March 1.

The “historic initiative” will use both individual family histories and historical documents to build a free, searchable database of information about enslaved African ancestors that encompasses the Transatlantic Slave Trade period from the 1500s to the 1800s, according to a news release.

10 Million Names will also use a network of professional genealogists, cultural organizations and community-based family historians for a research approach different from the standard methods used by genealogists: rather than starting with living individuals and working backward to ancestors, they’ll start with ancestors and move forward to living individuals.

To aid this effort, FamilySearch is sharing its “groundbreaking” artificial intelligence and technology solutions to help identify enslaved persons from its millions of freely searchable historical records — the largest source of records for African Americans of any organization in the world, according to the news release. FamilySearch will also help 10 Million Names identify, digitize, transcribe and publish new, previously unavailable collections.

Steve Rockwood, president and chief executive officer for FamilySearch International, said the organization is excited about the joy that will come as people make family discoveries and connections.

“Collaborating with American Ancestors on 10 Million Names aligns with FamilySearch’s vision to make it easier for millions of individuals of African ancestry in North America to reestablish their African roots and begin their family history journey,” he said.

Ryan Woods, president and chief executive officer for American Ancestors, said he’s “thrilled” to collaborate with FamilySearch on 10 Million Names after over 20 years of joint projects and both organizations’ commitment to African American genealogy.

“The desire to understand one’s ancestors and their impact is deeply human,” Woods said, adding that FamilySearch’s “extensive collections and expertise will expedite the chance for 44 million African Americans today to trace their roots to their formerly enslaved ancestors.”

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