Photograph of rescued slaves on board HMS Daphne, 1868 (Catalogue reference: FO 84/1310/B)

This is a brief guide to finding records of slavery or slave owners. The most important records for identifying slaves are the local slave registers, 1812 to 1851. Registers from 1812 to 1834 can be viewed online (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.). The National Archives holds duplicates from 1812 to 1851. It is difficult to find particular slaves, and registers can be complicated to search.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the name of the slave and the slave owner, including possible variations in spelling
      • where they lived, including the parish if possible
      • as much information as possible about dates of births, marriages and deaths
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Records held elsewhere

      Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

    • Records held in the archives of other countries

      Find contact details for archives elsewhere using Find an archive.

Did you know?

To find a particular slave, you need the name of the owner. Even in the few colonies where slaves had surnames, there may be several people of that name.

The indexes in the slave registers sometimes only include the name of the person who provided the information (or 'return'), not the owner.

There are no registers of slaves before 1812. The best place to find information about a slave before 1812 is in the private papers of the slave owner, or in records about the owner or his or her property. Papers might still be with the family or deposited in a local archive or library where the family lived or settled.

More and more archives in British and former British colonial dependencies are indexing and digitising information about slaves and slave owners.