New Project to Recover Names of Up to 10 Million U.S. Slaves Before 1870 and Locate Living Descendants

American Ancestors, a national center for family history, is partnering with family historians, leading African American scholars, and cultural institutions to recover the names of the 10 million people of African descent who were enslaved between the 1500s and 1865 in the U.S. The project—10 Million Names—will centralize genealogical and historical information about enslaved people of African descent and their families on a free website. 

      ABC News will serve as the exclusive media partner of the year-long initiative that will feature the findings, research, and work of a collaborative network of genealogists, cultural organizations, and community-based family historians through impactful and informative storytelling across ABC News platforms. 

      The advisory board includes Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard scholar and host of the popular PBS Series Finding Your Roots, which often reveals surprising information to celebrity guests about their ancestors. 

      Dr. Gates and others associated with the project have described it as having the potential to connect millions of people with American history through genealogy in ways never possible before. 

      “For the first time ever, we have the means to accomplish a project of this importance and magnitude,” said Cellini, the founding director of the 10 Million Names project. ”The institutional will and the technology exist. We have a collective obligation as a nation to tell African American family stories.” 

      Beginning in 2018, American Ancestors worked with Cellini to create a searchable public portal, subsequently presenting the family histories of more than 300 men, women, and children sold by the Jesuit priests of Georgetown University (then known as Georgetown College) in 1838 to Louisiana sugar plantations. 

      When he first discovered the sale, Cellini, a Georgetown alumnus, created an independent non-profit dedicated to finding the people who were sold, and worked with American Ancestors to publish the results. 

      “Our collaboration with Richard Cellini on the Georgetown Memory Project served as a model and launch pad for 10 Million Names,” said Ryan Woods, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for American Ancestors. “The work done on the Georgetown project demonstrated we could apply a different methodology to help more Americans of African descent recover their family history before 1870—which is often difficult. Community-based family historians will play a vital role in the success of this project.  

      To accomplish its goal, the 10 Million Names research team will reverse the typical approach used by genealogists, and borrow from the historian’s toolkit by starting with original source material, stretching from the 1500s to 1865. Genealogical researchers, historians, and data specialists will source data about enslaved people of African descent from archives, libraries, genealogical and historical societies, and organizations around the world. The team will also seek input from communities of family historians around the country and encourage the public to submit material that contains names of people and locations.  

      “ABC News is proud to be the exclusive media partner on this historic project to tell the untold stories of familial histories that have been a mystery until now, and we are looking forward to serving our audiences with straightforward reporting that shines a light on this chapter in American history,” said ABC News President Kim Godwin.  

      “Slavery separated families and obscured family history. Before the 20th century, genealogical data about enslaved Africans and their descendants was often deliberately obscured, altered, or simply unrecorded in the first place. This lasting legacy of slavery—the erasure of family history—remains with us today,” said 10 Million Names’ Chief Historian Dr. Kendra Taira Field, Associate Professor of History, Co-founder of the DuBois Forum, and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University.  

      “So, while those Americans attempting to claim Mayflower ancestry have had ample records to prove it, African Americans who have been collecting their family histories and stories privately for centuries have not generally had easy access to collective repositories of genealogical data.  This divergence is a stark reminder of our unequal and uneven access to our familial past,” Field concluded.  

      The public is invited to begin exploring the website at, where a small but growing number of datasets are presently available, with more to be added on a regular basis. 

      The site also offers resources for self-directed research. People are encouraged to submit original family materials containing names and locations such as family trees, copies of diaries or letters, bible records, and interviews with relatives to help create a publicly accessible repository about African American ancestors.  More detail about what materials 10 Million Names is seeking is available at 

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