Team working to digitize records of enslaved people in Kentucky

Team working to digitize records of enslaved people in Kentucky
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 3:59 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - For the first time in Kentucky, a team is working to digitize historical records of enslaved people, dating back to the late 1700s.

The project will make it easier for people to access information about their family history.

Downtown Lexington was the site of one of the biggest slave markets in the southeastern United States, formerly known as Cheapside.

“One of the myths was out there was that there was one central book that had all the names of slaves that were sold at Cheapside and that’s not true,” said Shea Brown, Fayette County Special Projects Deputy Clerk.

In Fayette County, records of enslaved individuals are captured throughout various record books.

“One of the hardest things with these records is trying to read the old colonial-style handwriting,” Brown said. “It’s written in a script that is in a time period that most people are not familiar with.”

In order to find information about their enslaved family members, people have to go through old, large, hard-to-read books.

“It’s a lot to it. It’s a lot of work and the only way you can do it is keep coming in each day, spend some time in the clerk’s office,” Brown said. “So, then we started thinking, ‘well, what if this information can be made available online?’”

That’s why the Digital Access Project is working to make this process easier by digitizing 137 record books, more than 60,000 pages.

“There’s two things that this project will do. It will allow people to have easier opportunity to see these records, but, the second thing, these books are fading away, so this project will keep information stored into the future forever digitally,” Brown said.

A team is working to scan the books and they’ll later be posted online. After the initial project launches the goal is to transcribe the records, making it even easier for people to access the information.

Brown says the goal is to launch the first part of the project in the summer of 2023.