Guide to the Records of Beneath the Underground:
The Flight to Freedom and the Communities of Antebellum Maryland
A fundamental objective of Beneath the Underground is to explore the legacy of the Underground Railroad with the primary documents available at the Maryland State Archives. The purpose of this guide is to help website visitors understand the usefulness and history of the records mined for this project, as well as, to give insight into our research methodology. The core focus years of the Beneath the Underground study are 1830 to 1880.
How to Use
The Beneath the Underground Railroad website offers a variety of ways to explore the complicated world of enslavement in Maryland. Whether you are a genealogist, credentialed scholar, or history student, the site provides the flexibility of different approaches. The nearly 250 case studies which have been created for our site are derived from references identified within Archives record series' and collections such as those listed on Records.
For the Genealogist:
Individuals can type the surname of a family member into the Beneath The Underground Railroad database using the general search page, or users may limit the search to a more specific category such as only Runaway Ads or Census Population records. In searching for the name Garrett, for example, 9 references were found under Runaway Ads and 52 references were found under US Census Population. As explained in the Census Record section, different categories of information will be displayed based on the year of the census and the legibility of the source document used for this study (microfilm, original or digital records). Compare and gather information as you normally would to find a family or chronological connection. Jot this data down to cross reference with other names within both record series as well as against each other. One could find a specific Garrett within the Census records and then check if this same Garrett is found within a Runaway Ad. If successful, you will have found additional information about the life of an ancestor beyond their mere existence. For additional information on family history research techniques, please see link to History and Family History Research Guide of Reference Services webpage.
For the Scholar or Student:
Depending on the focus, a scholar could approach the Beneath The Underground Railroad website in many varied ways. If the researcher was especially interested in the prevalence of anti-slavery activity in Prince George' s County, for instance, the individual might enter Prince George County in the database search engine for various categories such as Runaway Ads and all series referring to imprisonment. Applying this search, Prince George's county listed 1,767 Runaway Ads, 76 Slave Jail citations and 4 references in Accommodations Docket. A scholar could study these returns for similar or repeated names of participants as well as a relative chronology of events. Were there more escape attempts directly before rather than after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law? Was a specific geographic area more subject to runaway attempts than another; Bladensburg more so than Upper Marlboro, for instance? A quick use of the search engine produced the following results:
Runaway Slave Ads with Bladensburg: 197
Runaway Slave Ads with Upper Marlboro: 294
Closer reviews might reveal a frequently mentioned owner, suspected destination of flight or a historical date that precipitated flight.