The Invisible Line

By J. L. Starkey

“History remembers only the celebrated,

genealogy remembers them all.”

– Laurence Overmire

I almost didn’t write a 52 Ancestors post for the Long Line prompt.

I told myself that I didn’t know what to write about, but that wasn’t exactly true. In 2019, I wrote about finding my third-great-grandfather, Everett Wingfield Baugh. His ancestors kept things nice and legal when it came to money and property, and their meticulous ways enabled me to trace Everett’s lineage all the way back to William “The Immigrant” Baugh of Colonial Virginia’s Bermuda Hundred region.

Tracing that long line took a little bit of creativity, a little bit of luck, and a lot of hard work. But oh, what an ancestor I found along the way. Everett’s southern roots were Gone-with-the-Wind-deep, but he lived a life that didn’t suit him very well, and I suspect that he felt woefully out of place in his traditional southern family.

How could that be? The Baugh family lived the American dream! They persevered, they worked hard, they…wait.

What was this?

I traced that long line with a vision of how things might have been.

But I wasn’t prepared to discover how things really were.

African Americans, freed from plantation slave holders, worked as teamsters at Bermuda Hundred to help the U.S. forces that freed them from the rebels of the civil war.
[Hirst D. Milhollen & Donald H. Mugridge – LOC Collections, Public Domain.
Photo colorized with MyHeritage.]

Everett’s Lineage, Finally Revealed

Clues to Everett’s lineage were found in chancery court documents like this one.

After I concluded that Everett was the son of George Washington Baugh, I reviewed land records, court cases, wills, and DNA matches to determine George’s lineage. Based on that data, I learned that he was a son of John Baugh II, a farmer who died in 1806 [1]. John’s father, John Baugh I, died in 1761 [2].

John Baugh I was the son of (you guessed it) John Baugh, whose will was probated in October 1726 [3]. John was very concise in that 1726 document, perhaps due to the influence of his father, who died in 1687. That man was William Baugh, better known as The Immigrant to his descendants [4].

In a perfect world, determining my family’s connection to The Immigrant would have been the end of the story. But the records that proved this lineage told a tale that was quite different from the one I expected.

My Baugh ancestors – the settlers, the landowners, the farmers – were also slaveholders.

Clues From Milly

Though George Baugh died intestate around 1848, an 1840 indenture provided insight into his life [5]. According to that document, in exchange for a payment of one dollar, attorney Thomas Miller managed a trust to support George’s family. The agreement stipulated that items in the trust were “free from all charges against the said Baugh” but could be sold to support the family [6].

The first item listed in the agreement, however, was not cash, land, or livestock. Instead, item number one was “one negro woman called Milly.”

Indenture between George Baugh and Thomas Miller [Ancestry image]

“This must be a mistake,” I thought, as I looked at the words in disbelief. “My ancestors didn’t own slaves…did they?”

It’s a question many of us have asked ourselves, and we probably all felt that same sickening feeling when we discovered that the answer was yes.

Suddenly, the narrative changed, and I decided to take a closer look at those court records.

What I discovered was horrifying.

George Baugh’s father was not a struggling Virginia farmer. In reality, John Baugh was a wealthy plantation owner whose estate was valued at over ten thousand dollars at the time of his death.

George Baugh is appointed plantation superintendent [Ancestry image]

In his will, John appointed George as plantation superintendent and issued instructions for the distribution of thirty enslaved men and women. An appraisal conducted after John’s death assigned monetary values to each enslaved individual, including a young woman named Milly, who was valued at just $100.

Milly is listed in the 1806 appraisal of John Baugh’s estate [Ancestry image]

It was not the first time I had seen her name, of course, and it would not be the last time. Between 1806 and 1840, Milly would be bought and sold at least three times, and she would later be listed as collateral in that 1840 indenture that would forever alter my perception of the Baugh family.

Milly is sold to George’s brother John in 1815. [Ancestry image]

Tragically, Milly wasn’t alone.


Enslaved individuals from the John Baugh estate are sold in 1816 [Ancestry image]

They had names, and stories, and lives…all of them. There was Robin, and there was Abram.

There was Nannie, and there was Hampton. There was Lucy and her daughter Charlotte; and Clarissa and her daughter Eliza.

There was Aphrica, and Jude, and Kitt. There was Dafney and her three children: Sally, Billy, and Sam.

There was Judah and her three children: Patience, Verina, and Cloe.

And there was Milly, of course.

Enslaved individuals are listed in the 1761 estate of John B. Baugh I [Ancestry image]

In all, there were two hundred years’ worth of names in those Baugh records.

Think about that for a moment…two hundred years.

For approximately eight generations, an unknown number of individuals were enslaved at the Baugh Plantation. Those individuals were denied their freedom, their choices, and their dreams. For two hundred years, an untold number of human beings were denied the right to live the lives they deserved.

And they had names. Every single one of them.

Taking the Baugh Family Beyond Kin

Henry P. Moore, Slaves of General Thomas F. Drayton, ca. 1862.
[Public domain, The J. Paul Getty Museum. Photo colorized with MyHeritage.]

“Records matter” is a phrase often repeated at the National Archives, and those words resonated as I wrote this post. Records do matter, and in genealogy, we tell the stories behind those records…good and bad. It’s easier to write about the good things, but genealogy doesn’t just remember those things.

Genealogy remembers it all.

Still, words eluded me this week. Regardless of what I wrote, I knew that a huge part of the story was still hidden in those records. Was there anything I could do about that?

Donna Cox Baker and Frazine K. Taylor provided the perfect answer to that question [7]. In 2016, they created the Beyond Kin Project to “…encourage and facilitate the documentation of enslaved populations, particularly by recruiting the resources and efforts of the descendants of slaveholders.” According to their website:

“No matter how enlightened we may believe ourselves to be, nothing can elevate that enlightenment like learning to care for the people our records, histories, and genealogies made invisible.”

– The Beyond Kin Project

Count me in.

There is a next step, and this year, I will take that step when I begin creating a Beyond Kin family tree for the Baugh Plantation. It will not change the past, of course. Nothing can do that. But it may change the future for descendants who are searching for answers, but instead are finding only brick walls and invisible lines.

I hope you’ll join me on what promises to be a challenging and fascinating journey.


  1. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Powhatan>Wills, Inventories, and Accounts, Vol 1-3>1777-1811>digital images 393-394 of 690: Will of Baugh, John. Retrieved from (See also: Powhatan County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1782-1938. George W Baugh, etc. v. Archibald B Baugh, etc.; and Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia v. George W Baugh, etc., 1909-070. Local Government Records Collection, Powhatan County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.)
  2. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Henrico>Will Books, Vol. 1-2 1749-1774 > digital images 365-366 of 964: Inventory & Appraisal of John Baugh. Retrieved from
  3. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Henrico County Records, 1714-1737 > digital images 212-213 of 548: Will of John Baugh. Retrieved from
  4. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Henrico County Records, 1677-1697 > digital image 200 of 650: Will of William Baugh. Retrieved from
  5. Powhatan County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1782-1938. Mutual Assurance Society v. George Baugh, etc. 1848-008. Local Government Records Collection, Powhatan County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
  6. Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Powhatan > Deeds, Vol. 13-14 > 1834-1841 > digital image 501 of 576: Baugh to Baugh’s Trustees. Retrieved from
  7. The Beyond Kin Project. The BKP,

18 thoughts on “The Invisible Line

Add yours

  1. As much as this find was distressing, your ancestors actually used names. Their slaves had names. And those names are in the records. I know from watching “Finding Your Roots” that having a recorded name is a rare find for most slaves. Good on you for sharing the information you have found about these people.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a perfect read on MLK day. As soon as I saw Bermuda, as a historian I knew. One of my Kentucky forebears was also a well off slaveholder, although my paternal ancestors were all Quakers and antislavery. I’m just coming to terms with it myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that sounds like a very worthy project. I certainly had slave-owning ancestors. It can be very jarring to realize just how much some owners really didn’t recognize the humanity of those they held in bondage. Just today I was reading a bill of sale from 1811 where a man was selling pretty much most of his personal property to a relative, something along these lines: twelve horses by the following description…a wagon, harnesses, bucket, one negro girl named Ceil… eight chairs, pots, dishes, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well they thought jailing debtors, and hanging, drawing and quartering were fitting punishments, too. Humans can be quite barbaric (genocide still occurs today). But I’d say overall the world has become a gentler, kinder place.


  4. My family research has led me to you!! It appears that my 5x great grandmother, Rose Lilly, was illegally held by John Baugh. She had been emancipated in 1782 in Caroline County by John Peatross. She filed suit in 1805 against John Baugh and WON!! Of course, I still have unanswered questions – how did she end up in Powhatan; how did John Baugh get her; what happened after she won the case? I would love to connect with you because I have a strong feeling you may have the answers!

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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