Genealogical Association Launches Website Showing History of Slaves Who Were Sold by Catholic-Run Georgetown University

Photos of GU272 descendent Donna Comeaux’s family. Photo by Claire Vail

A genealogical association has launched a new website detailing the family histories of slaves who were sold to keep Catholic-run Georgetown University from bankruptcy in the 1800s.

American Ancestors announced the new GU272 Memory Project website on Wednesday (June 19), the anniversary of Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when some American slaves learned they had been freed.

Twenty-seven years earlier, a document dated June 19, 1838, showed that Maryland Jesuit priests sold 272 slaves to the owners of Louisiana plantations. The Jesuits used the proceeds to benefit then-Georgetown College.

First page of the GU272 Bill of
Sale from 1838. Photo courtesy
of Georgetown

But the website includes a spreadsheet of 314 individuals whom genealogists have identified as being part of the group sold by the Jesuit priests. It also features audio recordings in which descendants recall memories, from segregated education to family migration away from the South.

“Having descendant voices present alongside historical documents is an essential part of the GU272 narrative,” said Claire Vail, the project’s director for American Ancestors, in an announcement about the website. “Documents provide the factual framework, but people supply the human story.”

Descendants are learning new links to their pasts as a result of the project.

“As Black Americans — as descendants of enslaved people — we have always been told ‘you’ll never know who you are. You’ll never know where you came from,’” said Mélisande Short-Colomb, a descendant of the group of slaves, in a statement about the project.

“Now that we have this data, my hope is that we can use it to open doors and make connections. We have been here since the founding of this country, and we are a significant part of the American experience.”

The website is part of a collaboration between Boston-based American Ancestors, also called the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Georgetown Memory Project, which was founded by Georgetown alumnus Richard Cellini.

Through the project, genealogists have discovered 8,425 descendants of enslaved people sold in 1838. Close to half of them remain alive. The site includes a searchable database with genealogies of descendants who have died.

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Source: Religion News Service