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 liked to keep 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 the Bermuda Hundred region of Colonial Virginia.

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.

Everett’s Lineage, Finally Revealed

Clues to Everett’s lineage were found in chancery court documents like the one shown here.

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 the 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 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, an individual 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.

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 using MyHeritage software,]

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].

Indenture between George Baugh and Thomas Miller [Ancestry image]

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

I looked at the words in disbelief.

“This must be a mistake,” I thought. “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 slaves.

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

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.

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

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.

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 using MyHeritage software.]

“Records matter” is a phrase often repeated at the National Archives, and those words resonated with me as I wrote this post. Records do matter, and in genealogy, we tell the stories behind those records…good and bad. Sure, it’s always 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 create 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, Chesterfield 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,

15 thoughts on “The Invisible Line

  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

    1. I love “Finding Your Roots,” too! I hope that by sharing what I’ve discovered, someone will break down a brick wall or two.


  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

    1. It is so shocking to see those records. Reading about it in history books is one thing, but it is entirely another thing when you see an ancestor’s name in those records.


  3. A great discovery on your part. While it may be hard to take it all in, who knows who this may help find out about their family line in the future.


    1. It has been a difficult part to research, but so very worthwhile!


  4. 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. It’s just so unbelievable that people thought it was ok to do such things. I’ll never understand that at all!

      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.


      2. I agree with you. The world has its problems, but it is a much better place than it was for our ancestors.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your posts and have nominated you for a Sunshine Blogger Award. Info is here if you choose to accept (no worries if you can’t.) :


    1. Oh my goodness…I’m just now seeing this after a very busy week! This has absolutely made my year…and it needed making!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad! I always look forward to your posts. You have a wonderful storytelling ability and your ancestors are also quite the characters!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We give my mom a hard time about her reality-show ancestors. All this time, we expected dad’s side to have all the drama!

        Liked by 1 person

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