Activist state

Library to complete overdue employee work on slave records

With the creation of an index and catalog of slave records at the Greenville County Library System, Rulinda Price has made it easier for African Americans to trace their family history in South Carolina.

Price died in August at the age of 66, but the work she started in 2012 continues and moves beyond Greenville to other parts upstate.

Beverly James, executive director of the Greenville County Library System, said in an email that staff and volunteers at the Hughes Main Library’s South Carolina Room have been working on Price’s indexing project since his retirement in 2021 and that they “plan to finish the work she started.”

Price was an archivist at the library before being diagnosed with cancer. As part of the slave index project, “she personally reconnected families separated for generations,” said Knox White Jr., who feared Price’s work would be shut down and disappear in the piles.

“By sharing her story, it is my greatest hope that a fitting tribute will inspire commitment to the continued work of Rulinda, formal recognition of her legacy, patronage in support of her continuation,” said White in a text message.

Price’s daughter, Amanda Olson, is proud that her mother set the framework for what library staff and volunteers do.

“They are continuing this work,” she said. “Last time we spoke with them, the last job our mom worked on was Spartanburg County. She’s finished Greenville. They’re finishing up Spartanburg County, and then they’re going to move on to other counties.

Price lived in Easley. A history buff, Price worked for the library system from August 2000 until July 2021 when cancer forced her into retirement.

She and her husband, Myron, have three daughters and a son.

Her children described her as a hard worker and a busy body – in a good way – who always made time to make sure they were taken care of.

“She is the only person we could always ask for advice and she would always have the answer,” said her daughter Jessica Doughty.

Some like Greg McKee shared a similar relationship with Price in the South Carolina room, “his rhythm” at the library. The former YMCA Camp Greenville director and writer would go to Price when researching historical topics.

She always led him to the information he requested and a little extra.

“In other words, she was helping my research far beyond what she was supposed to do,” McKee said. “She was anticipating my need, not following my need. It’s so unique.

White, son of Greenville Mayor Knox White, said in a text message that he met Price through McKee. Price, he said, was key to helping lead McKee’s archival source research.

“Losing her left him without a key ally. He returned empty-handed multiple times as he searched for documents hidden in plain sight,” White said.

But the draw wasn’t just Price’s knowledge, he said. It was also a selfless commitment to serve others.

Adam Price thinks one of the reasons his mother focused on African American genealogy is that she was always trying to do the right things. He thinks she would have been an activist in the 1960s and 1970s if she hadn’t had other activities.

“I understand why she would have wanted to go in that direction, to help people who weren’t properly represented in the past,” he said.

She was an expert in genealogy, White said, and she noticed there were few systems in place to help families. Then she noticed that many of those coming to the room from South Carolina were people of color looking for information, he said.

“As a historian with two master’s degrees, both in history and library science, she understood that there were unique obstacles placed in their path,” White said. “She also perceived that these barriers could even be essential. She knew that there must be legal documents, etc., relating to the trade of people, but that these documents would not be filed under the genealogy; coldly, rather scattered in various registers and tax registers accounting for the property.

The indexing project was launched in 2012.

Price, James said, was inspired to do the project by the book “Slave Records of Edgefield County South Carolina” by Gloria Ramsey Lucas.

Price also wrote about the indexing project in the Summer 2020 issue of Descriptive Notes, the newsletter of the Society of American Archivists, in an article titled “Transcribe Probate Records to Support African American Genealogical Research.”

“Rulinda told me that she realized how little there was available regarding African-American genealogy and decided, if there was no book available to order on the records of enslaved people in upstate South Carolina, then the library system should create one,” James said.

Price eventually realized probate records were one of the best sources of information about enslaved people, she said.

Probate and estate documents, which include wills, inventories and bills of sale, are resources where enslaved people are frequently named and are a valuable resource for family history researchers, James said.

“She noted that if every state and county in places where people were enslaved produced a similar index of their probate records, it would help researchers tremendously,” she said.

The Indexing Project originally began with indexing the names of enslaved people from Greenville County probate records on microfilm in the South Carolina Ward.

Price, along with other dedicated staff and volunteers, indexed the names of enslaved people from probate records from other upstate counties that the library system had on microfilm, James said.

Prior to Price’s retirement in 2021, the Greenville, Laurens, Pendleton/Anderson and Pickens indexes were completed.

Price began working on the Spartanburg County index in 2018.

South Carolina Room staff are adding the finishing touches to the Spartanburg project and beginning to index Newberry and Union County, James said.

Completed index books can be viewed in the South Carolina room. There are also searchable copies of the indexes online in the library’s digital collection, James said.

Once Spartanburg, Newberry and Union County are complete, these indexes will be printed and also added to the digital collection, she said.

“Indexes are among the most accessed items in our digital collection, accessible from around the world,” James said.

Price’s family is raising money through GoFundMe to cover the cost of his funeral.

This story was originally published September 24, 2022 1:00 a.m.