Library To Finish Late Employee's Work On Slave Records

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — With the creation of an index and a catalog of slave records at the Greenville County Library System, Rulinda Price helped make it easier for African Americans to trace their families’ history in South Carolina.

Price died in August at the age of 66, but the work she started in 2012 is carrying on and moving beyond Greenville into other parts of the Upstate.

Beverly James, executive director of the Greenville County Library System, said in an email that staff and volunteers in the Hughes Main Library’s South Carolina Room have been working on Price’s indexing project since her retirement in 2021 and they “plan to complete 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 that Price’s work would be stopped and disappear in the stacks.

“In sharing her story, it’s my highest hope that a proper tribute will inspire commitment to the continuation of Rulinda’s work, formal recognition of her legacy, patronage in support of its continuation,” White said in a text message.

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

“They’re continuing that work,” she said. “When we last spoke with them, the last bit of work our mother worked on was Spartanburg County. She completed Greenville. They are just now finishing Spartanburg County, and then they are going to move on to other counties.”

Price lived in Easley. A history buff, Price worked for the library system from August 2000 to 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 ensure they were cared for.

“She’s the only person we could always go to for advice and she would always have the answer,” said daughter Jessica Doughty.

Some like Greg McKee shared a similar relationship with Price in the South Carolina Room, “her beat” at the library. The former YMCA Camp Greenville director and writer would go to Price during his research on historic topics.

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

“In other words, she was helping my search far beyond what she had to do,” McKee said. “She was anticipating my need, not following my need. That’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 essential to helping direct McKee’s search for archival sources.

“Losing her has left him without a key ally. He’s several times returned empty-handed while looking for records hidden in plain sight,” White said.

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

Adam Price believes a reason his mother focused on African American genealogy is because she was always trying to do the right things. He believes she would’ve been an activist in the 1960s and 70s had she not had other things going on.

“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, said White, and she noticed there were few systems in place to help families. Then she noticed that many who came to the South Carolina Room were people of color searching for information, he said.

“As a historian with two masters degree, both in history and library science, she understood that there were unique barriers placed in their way,” White said. “She also perceived that these barriers may even be key. She knew that there must be legal documentation, etc., relative to the trade of persons, but that these documents would not be filed under genealogy; coldly, instead scattered in various ledgers and tax records accounting for 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 “Transcribing Probate Records to Support African American Genealogical Research.”

“Rulinda told me she realized what little there was available pertaining to African American genealogy and decided, if there was not a book available to order on records of enslaved persons in Upstate South Carolina, then the Library System should create one,” James said.

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

Probate and estate papers, which include wills, inventories, and bills of sale, are resources where enslaved persons are named frequently 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 considerably,” she said.

The indexing project originally started with the indexing of names of enslaved persons from the Greenville County probate records on microfilm in the South Carolina Room.

Price, along with other dedicated staff and volunteers, proceeded to index names of enslaved persons from the probate records of other Upstate counties that the library system had on microfilm, James said.

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

Price began working on the Spartanburg County index in 2018.

The South Carolina Room staff is adding the final touches to the Spartanburg project and starting to index Newberry and Union County, James said.

The completed index books are available to view 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 completed, those indexes will be printed and also added to the digital collection, she said.

“The indexes are some of the most viewed items in our digital collection, which is accessible from around the world,” James said.

Price’s family is raising money via GoFundMe to cover the cost of her funeral.