Family tree of former slaves coming together

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DURHAM, North Carolina (AP) -- The family ties of nearly 1,000 slaves from a once-sprawling plantation are being pieced together with the help of their owners' records and their descendants.

Jennifer Farley, director of the Stagville state historic site, a plantation that once spanned about 47.5 square miles across parts of North Carolina's Durham, Orange, Wake and Granville counties, restarted the project two years ago, The News & Observer newspaper reported Thursday.

"We've just scratched the surface, I feel," Farley told the newspaper. "But if we don't have this, then these people will be forgotten. That is the worst thing you could do."

The first phase of the work started in the 1980s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A student who interned at Stagville sifted through all the Cameron-Bennehan papers on campus and documented the name of every enslaved black he came across. The thick binder filled with pages of names such as Orange, Toast, Mittie, Solomon, Moses and Little Lot sat unused until Farley arrived.

"I thought it was amazing that nothing was being done about it," she said.

The work is difficult, hindered by a lack of birth certificates, which often were not issued for slaves or were incomplete.

Farley has had an easier time than other plantation researchers because Cameron and Bennehan -- early trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill -- kept meticulous records of the plantation.

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