• Data Critiques

    Data Critique: African Origins

    In 2002 G. Ugo Nweokeji, a scholarly advisor from University of California, Berkley and David Eltis, a Woodruff Professor of History from Emory University started the African Origins project. Nweokeji and Eltis used audio recordings of names found in Courts of Mixed Commission records for Havana, Cuba and Freetown, Sierra Leone, to identify the origins of the names from different African countries and diasporas. The names documented were originally pronounced in the same language and accent. Keeping the information in it’s original state helped connect the sound of the name to its spelling. This enabled the best possible assessment of the name’s possible ethnic origins, which I believe couldn’t have been done with just written information. Eltis and Nwokeji were able to use the recordings and the pronunciations to find the closest ethnic group derived from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Angola and parts of North America. The extensive research done created two identifications for each African in the dataset. The research done led to others wanting to volunteer and help assist with this project. The project is sponsored by Emory University, National Endowment for the Humanities and W.E.B Du Bois institute for African and African American research. African Origins contains information about the migration histories of Africans forcibly carried on slave ships into Atlantic. The data uses details of 91,491 Africans liberated by International Courts of Mixed Commission and British Vice Admiralty Courts. The data displays Africans that were liberated during the era of the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade. Names and place of origin are provided by the Africans themselves. The information helps display linguistic and geographic data on the people captured in Africa and pulled into the slave trade. It’s not easy tracing African ancestry more less locating records. This project helps links names in records produced on the American side of the Atlantic with the actual name of the African who voyaged through the 19th century. Africans that were transported in the transatlantic slave trade often had their names changed. A lot of African names became “Christianized,” once they were disembarked and sold into slavery. The knowledge of African languages, cultural naming practices, and ethnic groups helps identify these Africans’ origins just by an individual’s name. The website hopes to spark the rediscovery of the backgrounds of millions of Africans captures and sold into slavery during the transatlantic slave trading of the 19th century. You search the records by entering a African name and select a country, then specify by gender. The chart gives you the option to analyze the information up to 11 columns like: names in registers and in possible modern counterpart, ages, gender, voyage ID numbers, ship names, African ID, disembarkation port, embarkation part, language group and voyage year. The website gives you the option to pick which columns you want to see, this helps better display the information documented.  Nweokeji and Eltis believe the information together with descriptions was intended to reduce the chances of re-enslavement. The African Origins project is a great database because the names of the people that were documented are, in many cases, African. There are some limits to the usefulness of this database for genealogical research because the Africans on board were liberated. So some are entered into the records of the slave trade and it’s harder for African American’s to research into enslaved ancestors. The database still displays information that will help to shed light on the ancestry of individuals descended from Africans transported in the trade or members of the African Diaspora. “