Thursday, February 27, 2020

9 Reasons Indentured Servitude Was NOT "White Slavery"

Now and again I see people who bring up "white slavery" in US history when what they really mean is indentured servitude. Indentured servants were mostly uneducated Europeans who were contracted into the sometimes lengthy and harsh service of an American employer to pay off the debt of their ship passage to the US. It's true they were frequently taken advantage of, had few rights, and often treated poorly, but there were fundamental legal differences between indentured servitude and chattel slavery in the US. A lot of racists and white supremacists have put out propaganda memes about "white slavery" or "Irish slavery" (see example left) in attempts to undermine the fact that slavery in the US was race based. There's other good articles on this topic from The New York Times, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and but I want to detail point by point how legally, indentured servitude was not the same thing as chattel slavery in the US.

1. Most indentured servants went willingly. While the terms of their service were often misrepresented, these were primarily people who wanted to immigrate but couldn't afford the ship passage, so they agreed to let an American employer pay their passage fee in return for their service to pay off the debt. Granted, some of them only wanted to go to America because it was the only way to escape religious persecution in Europe. Others were criminals who were sent to indentured servitude in the colonies instead of being sent to jail. There have also been some recorded cases of Europeans being kidnapped and involuntarily indentured to the Americas, but that was rare and more importantly, illegal.[2] Most indentured servants chose the path they did, even if that path was misrepresented or their alternate choices were worse, it is not the same thing as being physically forced or born into legal slavery on a mass scale.

2. The duration of their service was finite and once complete, they were even given a payment of "freedom dues" to start them off in their new, free life. This may have been cash, new clothing, or even a parcel of land, and therefore some historians argue that at this point, these servants would have been better off than those who came to America on their own dime. It's true that many indentured servants had years tacked onto their contract if they tried to escape or otherwise broke their contract, and others were so maltreated that they did not survive to the end of their contract. But many also not only lived out their contract, but prospered afterwards because of it. The typical length of indentured servitude was 4-7 years, which is nothing like a lifetime of slavery.[1][3]

3. Indentured servitude could not be inherited like hereditary slavery. An indentured servant's child was not automatically indentured too. In fact, indentured servants were not allowed to marry without their employer's permission[2], which was typically not granted[8] (because this would mean more expense for the employer, without an extra laborer) so most of them did not even have children until released from their service. An employer could tack more time onto the service of a female servant if she became pregnant (usually extended by 18-24 months)[8], but her child could not be indentured to the employer.[1][3] Theoretically, a cruel employer could have raped a female indenture and then used her pregnancy to extend her contract so he could continue raping her. But the child was still free and more importantly, this was an illegal abuse of the system, compared to the hereditary slavery that blacks endured, generation after generation, on top of the legally sanctioned and encouraged "breeding" they were forced into to perpetuate their hereditary slavery.

4. There were several acts passed by the British and US government which deterred and reduced indentured servitude and had no impact on slavery. These included the Passenger Vessels Act 1803 and the abolition of Debtor's Prison in 1833.[2] If indentured servitude and chattel slavery were the same thing, why would laws influence one but not the other?

5. While the rights of indentured servants were limited (they could not vote, for example), they did have certain rights that slaves did not. Indentures had the right to medical care (and the time of service lost to illness or injury could not be held against them)[8], food, shelter, and clothing, as well as the right to take abusive employers to court, and they could not be cheated out of their freedom dues[8], none of which were rights afforded to slaves.[3][4][7] Of course, these rights may not have always been well met, and suing an employer was not always realistic since indentures may not have had the money to hire a lawyer or file a law suit, but there were cases that did occasionally appear in court.[8] And the legal distinction is still important in terms of how the law viewed indentured servants versus slaves. Slaves did not have the legal right to sue anyone, and slave owners had the legal right to treat their slaves however they wished, including abuse. If a slave owner wanted to starve a slave to death, he had the legal right to do that, whereas this would have been consider murder if done to an indentured servant. Legally, indentured servants were given a status similar to children, not slaves.[8]

6. As African slavery grew in the US, indentured servitude declined and their work load became different from those of slaves; they were given lighter and more skilled work. This meant the working conditions of indentures improved and they may have even gained skills they could use to prosper once their contract was finished. The very reason slavery grew and indenturing declined was because slavery was absolute in its lack of freedom, whereas indenturing was not, meaning plantation owners got perpetual free labor out of slavery, whereas they didn't with indentured servants, once again highlighting the difference between them.[1][5] In 1756, a Philadelphia merchant said “All importations of white Servants is ruined … and we must make more general use of Slaves.”[5] This shows how they were considered different, and as servitude declined, slavery increased.

7. The first Africans brought to America were actually indentured servants, not slaves. Before 1641, there were no slave laws in the US, so when Africans were first brought her in 1619, they were indentured servants with the same contracts and rights as white indentured servants. That obviously changed and they or their descendants were eventually sold into the slavery system that developed later.[1] But it illustrates a distinction.

8. An indentured servant's contract could be sold to a new employer, but the servant themselves could not be sold or owned as property as slaves were.[5] This may have only been a legal distinction which made no difference to the servant in reality, but it shows how the law viewed indentured servants as human beings, but slaves as property.

9. Indentured servants were recorded as free on the US census. On the early US censuses, "free white" people were grouped by gender and age, then there was a category for slaves, and then one for "all other free persons". The enumerator's instructions were to record indentured servants as free: "free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, from all others".[6] So, white indentured servants were recorded as "free whites" and indentured servants of other races would be classed under "all other free persons" (or "free colored persons" depending on the census year). The very definition of slavery is not having the legal status of freedom, so the fact that indentured servants were considered free by law makes it impossible to call them slaves.

I am not saying indentured servants weren't exploited or didn't suffer at the hands of their employers, many of them did and that was a great injustice. But for the poor, life was always hard, and many people suffered at the hands of their employers even if they weren't indentured. Before labor laws and unions protected the rights of employees, even paid servants (not indentured) were often exploited, beaten, received wages too low to feed them, suffered long, grueling hours of hard labor, were sexually assaulted by their employers, etc. It didn't make them slaves. What made someone a slave was not the conditions they lived or worked in, but their legal status, and I hope I've illustrated how the legal status of slaves (ie, not free) in the US was very different from those of indentured servants (ie, free) and therefore they should not be lumped together. 

And of course, throughout all of history, people of all kinds were enslaved at some point. I am not saying no white person was ever enslaved in history - the Romans, for example, enslaved lots of white people. But the topic of "white slavery" is normally brought up in relation to US history and it's hereditary, chattel slavery as though they were the same thing when clearly, they were not.

So the next time someone tries to tell you about "white slavery" or "Irish slaves" when they actually mean indentured servitude, remember these facts and take whatever agenda they may have with a grain of salt.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

FamilySearch's Unindexed Images

Recently, FamilySearch made an update to their website in attempts to draw more attention to the wealth of unindexed records in their catalog, all available for free. The records available by using the search or even the collections list are a drop in the water compared to their vast catalog. You have always been able to access the catalog by click on "Search" and then "Catalog" from the drop down menu. Although it's readily available, it generally does not get used by people who don't know what it is or how to use it. Due to the fact that the images are not indexed, you can't search them by name or other details, you have to manually browse the images. To find the right collection, you have to search by location, collection title or author, keyword, subject, or, if you know it, film number (because the catalog used to be for looking up film rolls you could order). It's usually best to search by location, but this also requires knowing what jurisdictional "level" records are held at. For example, probate records are usually held at county level, so if you're searching for probates in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, you have to search the location field for Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Looking under just Pennsylvania will not find collections cataloged at lower levels, like county or city.

FamilySearch Catalog

FamilySearch's answer to this was to create a new option under the "Search" menu at the top of the site called "Images". Here, they have tried to simplify a way to find unindexed collections by making the location search field the only option unless you click on "more" and again on "advanced", which allows you to also search by time period, record/collection type, film number, etc. But unfortunately, the results seem to be lacking a lot of existing collections and the ones it does include are organized in a very convoluted way.

In the catalog, if I search for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I get a list of record/collection types, which I can click on to see the individual collections and select any of them. Fairly straightforward. In the new "Images" search, I get a huge list of over 8,000 results, many of which seem to be from the same collection but for some inexplicable reason, are broken down into multiple results (it appears they are broken down by individual film roll number, even though the film number isn't included in the results list). This means, for example, there's dozens of listings of probate collections, sometimes even multiple listings for probates from the same year! How am I supposed to know which one to use? In the screenshot below, it shows how if I'm looking for a Philadelphia probate record from 1913, there's multiple listings for it, and they aren't duplicates, they're different records. This is going to be far more confusing for people than the catalog ever was.

Of course, I can narrow down the results by using those more advanced search options, like adding a year and record type (1913, Probate), but that doesn't solve the problem of there being multiple results just for 1913 Philadelphia Probate records. In fact, there's 115 results! How on earth am I supposed to know which one to use? There is literally nothing distinguishing them from each other except sometimes the image count.

Maybe I just haven't gotten the hang of it yet, but so far, I haven't had any luck finding actual records or collections I know exist in the catalog with this new "Images" search option. As far as I can tell, it looks like they are not including collections that are only visible at a Family History Center or affiliate library, which is a huge portion of their catalog.

I do not understand the purpose or function of this new Images search. They now have 3 different ways to find records on their website (for some, it was confusing enough as it was to have 2 different ways), and none of them include their entire database of records. Honestly, I suggest you skip this and just use the catalog or search engine as usual.

Monday, February 17, 2020

More Colorizing

After trying MyHeritage's new colorizing tool and then giving colorizing myself a whirl in Photoshop, I finally managed to test out another automatic colorizing tool at ColouriseSG. At first, it didn't work, or maybe I just didn't wait long enough, but today it worked!

I used the same first image I did at MyHeritage, the one I then colored myself too. My first impression with just this one photo is that it's better than the one at MyHeritage, but the human touch is still best.

Although it still looks a little like they just added a sepia tone to it, I felt like the colors were a bit more realistic than MyHeritage's, and the eyes appeared less brown. They could arguably be gray.

They also made attempt to add a touch of redness to the lips, but I'm not sure I love the effect, they look a little purplish.

Overall, the colorizing is better than MyHeritage, but I was very disappointed by the fact that ColouriseSG made the photo I uploaded smaller and therefore lesser quality. So if you use this tool, be prepared to sacrifice quality for coloring! For this reason, I decided to not even bother testing it with other images.

As always, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day!

On this Valentine's Day, I'd like to point you in the direction of a previous blog post where I detailed the highly romantic love letters between my 3rd great grandparents, Robert Hawkins Smith and Octavia M Wood in 1837 Kentucky!

I once allowed MyHeritage to include them in a Valentine's Day promo and the staff member I spoke to thought they might have been the oldest surviving love letters in Kentucky. I thought maybe she was right, but that's a fairly specific location and a very specific topic too, so not a very difficult feat.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

MyHeritage's New Colorizing Photos Tool

Ever wanted to have your old black and white family photos colorized, but don't know how to do it yourself, and don't want to pay a professional an arm and a leg for it? Well, MyHeritage just launched a new free feature from DeOldify that will instantly colorize black and white photos. But how well does it work? I was a little skeptical and couldn't wait to test it out.

The photo I tested was just a simple portrait from about the 1880s. I was surprised how quickly it colorized, and I was pleased with how nice it looked but I realized that it actually just looked like a sepia tone had been added to it. I don't think that was the intention, and the skin tones did have a more fleshy color, but everything else looked like it'd just been sepia toned. A little disappointing.

Additionally, you may not be able to see it very well but this man's eyes were clearly light colored - blue, grey, hazel, etc. Something like that. But zooming in on his eyes shows the sepia/fleshy colors of the skin seems to have just been overlaid on his eyes, making them look brown, as if there was no attempt whatsoever to even color the eyes at all.

And while we're on the subject, they are beautiful eyes, aren't they? I've always thought this guy looks a bit like Leonardi DiCaprio.

To show you the difference between what a computer can do and what a human can do, here is my colorization of the same photo (including spot cleaning/restoration):

Back to MyHeritage. I then tried it with a group photo, thinking the multiple faces, garments, etc would add some variation to the possible colors. This was much more impressive:

Not bad for an automated system! Granted, the photo's highlights are a little blown out in places and some of the faces are blurred from too much movement, but colorizing system handled it pretty well in spite of that.

What's even better is that this is a high resolution image I used. I was a little worried that such an advanced tool available for free would only accept low resolution images (maybe charging for high resolution), but this was a fairly high resolution image and it not only accepted it, it still only took a few seconds to generate a color version. Unfortunately, although it will accept high resolution images, there is a limit to how many photos you can colorize if you have a free account. They don't tell you this anywhere but choose your photos carefully because you only get 10 of them, and deleting previous ones doesn't allow you anymore.

And the colorization still isn't perfect.

You may notice how it doesn't exactly take much risk or leaps with the colors it chooses. The men are in black suits, the women all seem to be in black and dark navy dresses, and the kids are all in white or neutral colors. You can probably understand why - I suppose they don't want a man's suit turning up bright red or something equally unrealistic for the era and gender. That's the downside to using a computer instead of a human who can distinguish these things and safely choose a greater variety of colors to apply.

Additionally, when I zoom in, there are areas that look like something almost resembling purple fringing except not along high contrast edges. You can see these sort of random purple splotches in the zoom-in below, particularly in her hair (pretty sure purple wasn't a trending hair color in 1880 Wisconsin), and sleeves. This is just a small area of the photo but these purple spots turn up everywhere if you look closely enough.

There's also some areas of the image that the computer seems to have some difficulty coloring. You'll note above how her one shoulder does not appear colored, or at least seems to be a different color from the rest of her dress - more of a sepia tone again. You see it most prominently in the skirt behind this child below:

At first, I thought maybe it was due to a shading variation in the original that may have fooled the system into thinking the difference in the shading meant a difference in color, but that is not the case. You can see in the original, there is no shading variation.

I guess the tool just sometimes has difficulty identifying edges and items so when it's unsure, it seems to do this. It's understandable, I suppose - after all, what is required to accomplish this in mere seconds must be an incredibly complex algorithm and coding, and it's provided for free, so I can forgive it for not being perfect.

Lastly, you may have noticed MyHeritage put their logo in the bottom right corner of the colorized image, and a little paint palette icon in the lower left. To avoid these, I'd recommend adding a superficial border to your image where the logo and icon will show up, which you can then crop off later.

I decided to try another photo (above), this time with more elements in it - horses, a house, etc to see if the same problems occurred, and they did. Once again, you can see all the clothing colors are very neutral. And again, you can see some weird rainbow-like discoloration at the top of the house.

And again, there were obviously some spots where the computer had difficulty colorizing or distinguishing between items - as you can see below, the hand on the shoulder looks like it either hadn't been colorized at all or it's blending in with the color of the other boy's jacket. Conveniently for the computer, it chose to "color" this boy's jacket grey!

So if you don't want any creepy dead hands like this, or your ancestors had blue eyes instead of brown, it's best to hire someone to do this for you instead of relying on an automated system. There are also Facebook groups with generous people who will colorize your photos for free, but be aware that Facebook doesn't easily support high resolution images like this does. This option from MyHeritage is still pretty impressive for what it is though, and if you're not bothered by the small problems that you might not even see very well when zoomed out, this will be amazing tool for many people. At the very least, I enjoyed seeing some color in the faces of my ancestors and relatives, as it seems to make them come alive a little more.

I haven't checked it out yet but there's an alternate colorizing option found at ColouriseSG. It appears to be free.