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Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative

Project overview and search strategies for accessing pre-1867 records of enslaved and free Black Virginians

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Archives Reference Services
Library of Virginia
800 E. Broad St.
Richmond, VA 23219
804-692-3888
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Overview

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Virginia Untold provides digital access to records at the Library of Virginia that document the lived experiences of enslaved and free Black and multiracial people. Sources such as local court records and state records contain the names of millions of enslaved and free Black men, women, and children. These records are access points to the individual experiences of Black Americans who lived in Virginia from the establishment of slavery in the 1600s until the late 1860s. 

During processing, staff extracted details from each document such as names, ages, and dates and created datasets organized by record type (e.g. judgments, legislative petitions, etc.). These datasets are accessible on the Virginia Open Data Portal, allowing researchers to map patterns and trends over time, create visualizations, and link data across datasets. 

photograph of an african american woman seated for portrait in gold frame
Unidentified African American Woman. Second Half 19th C., Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Virginia Untold also includes records from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture's Unknown No Longer project. Unknown No Longer was launched in 2011, with a similar goal to that of Virginia Untold: to provide access to the biographical details of enslaved and free Black and multiracial Virginians from pre-Civil War unpublished historical records. In 2019 the content of Unknown No Longer became available through Virginia Untold, providing users with an expanded collection of sources for researching African American history in Virginia. View the archived version of Unknown No Longer's Message Board.   

The work of Virginia Untold is an ongoing process. We are continually digitizing new documents from the Library's collections. 

Content Warning: Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation.

Revised December 2022