SO WHAT Mr. Luke Goins-I have your Certificate of Freedom, now what?

It’s difficult if you don’t know the laws of the area you are researching when conducting genealogical research. At the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI) instructor Judy G. Russell (aka the Legal Genealogist) walks students through the public law and laws around slavery in Track 1. It doesn’t matter what race you are researching, you need to know the laws of the time you are researching. It would seem that each time a law went into place a document would be generated. The Commonwealth of Virginia has been interesting as I use the Black Laws of Virginia (June Purcell Guild) to follow one law linking to my own ancestry. Luke Goin is my 5th great grandfather and was living in Loudoun Co. Virginia.

First, let’s look at the law and figure out what we are dealing with.

The law taken from June Purcell Guild’s book the Black Laws of Virginia Chapter V “Free Persons of Color and Slaves, pg. 95 says:

 1793 Chapter 22. Free Negroes or mulattoes shall be registered and numbered in a book to be kept by the town clerk, which shall specify age, name, color, status and by whom, and in what court emancipated. Annually the Negro shall be delivered a copy for twenty-five cents. A penalty is fixed for employing a Negro without a certificate; the Negro may be committed to jail. Every free Negro shall once in every three years obtain a new certificate.

Breaking the law down so I can understand it. Here is what I see in the law and what I need to know about it:

  Questions, thoughts…
1793, Chapter 22 It’s after the revolutionary war, but need to know what was going on in Loudoun Co. Virginia during this time, what events where going on. Is there history as to why this law was put on the books? This certificate is dated 1795; two years after the law went into place, why two years later and not immediately. I will write the clerk or one of my genealogy buddies who does a lot of early Virginia research and ask if I can’t find online.
The law identified who it applied too Free Negroes and Mulattoes. Wonder if this also applied to Native Americans, did they have to register? Goins were believe to be mixed race people.
Explained specific directions Negroes and Mulattoes must be registered and numbered in a book-I need to understand “numbered” what does it mean? Were the individuals or households given a number for tracking or what?
Where the records will be located once they are completed Town Clerk, now I know where to locate the records. This is also telling me since this is a Virginia law when researching Negroes and Mulattoes in any county I will look for these documents.
What information the record should have on it Age, name, color, status, and by whom, who emancipated them. Need to find a certificate that the individual was a slave and then emancipated to compare the information and what leads I can get from them.
How often and costs. So we need to follow the money-the Negro will get a copy by paying .25 annually, so there should be a set of records for this money.
Penalty if Negroes and Mulattoes don’t have a certificate Fixed fee for the employer if their Negroes don’t have a certificate, the Negro will go to jail. Find the list of employers who got a fine, it might have more names. Locate any jail records in case any Goins didn’t have their certificate.
How often do the Negroes and Mulattoes have to have a certificate Every three years they need to get a new certificate. Need to check for a new certificate every three years, Clerk only gave me this one for 1795, is there one for 1798?
Is there anything else to add or what I might need to know? Is the law still on the books? When did it end, what is the total time span for this document to be required. What about the children, say under the age of 18 yrs. Do they have certificates of freedom too?

Now let’s look at the actual Certificate of Freedom for Luke Goin. It is critical to understand what you have when you are gathering documents. You need to analyze the information and understand why it was created. The goal is to question the information that is listed on the document and thinking “SO WHAT” – I have this information, what does it tell me and then ask yourself if it generates more questions and gaps and does it give you leads to more information? The responses will be your next steps in your research, like a “to do” list. Any of the questions or conflicts/gaps will need to be resolved.

This is part of your journey in conducting an “exhaustive search”. SO WHAT is a good tool to help you analyze, question, and break down information. Now this does not necessarily follow any order and yes I might jump around so just bare with me. You are now entering into familytreegirl’s madness of analyzing a record. You never know what you have until you “SO WHAT” a document.


Loudoun County, Virginia Certificate of Freedom for Luke Goin, 23 December 1795

SO WHAT! Questions, questions, etc. Research Plan-what I need to do to document and resolve the questions-
Luke and wife Margaret He is married, wife’s first name, and no maiden name; need to locate a marriage record. Was there a requirement for a bond to be put up for marriage? Also there is no indication as to how long they have been married? Use 30 yrs. to begin with. Also consider that they might not of married in Virginia, could of married in Maryland. Maryland had less requirements, etc. Also check PA, just in case.

Will look for Margaret’s family and more Goins in the area. Note the spelling of Goin, no S, but Jason has an S. Spelling does not count.

The witnesses say they have known them for above 30 years in the neighborhood, does “above” last frost mean more than? This takes me back to 1760s, what other records could the Goin name be on? The record was created in Dec, end of the year, winter time, which also mean to look for any delayed records, need to ask the court house staff about any delayed records. We have a look at who was in the community and who all was related. What about Church, did they attend a church, was there Black churches in the area, or did they all go to one church?

  Based on the document is says “neighborhood”, so it is giving me names of the neighbors. Oh I can document a community, I need to know what else is there.

Make a list of “every” name listed in the document. Get an old map of Loudoun County, check census and vital records and pinpoint where each person lived to located Luke’s household, will have to go forward and research each of the names, also are any of them related to Luke, any working relationships or land transactions?

Jason Goin, brother We have the name of one of Luke’s brothers, so who is his wife and children, how close did they live near Luke’s?

Who are Luke and Jason’s parents? Need to locate other siblings of Luke and Jason. Does Jason have his own Certificate of Freedom, will have to contact the Court House, I only asked for Luke Goin, so now I have more names.

What records will show relationships? -Wills, deeds, vital statistics records, etc.

Need to pull other Certificates of Freedom with Goins surnames, it might show more relationships.

“Always to be free” as well as his brothers and sisters This man, John Littlejohn knows this family…so at least 30 yrs. and above, the Goins have been free. Did they own any land, check for deeds, etc.?

How close was land to Littlejohn’s. Were they next-door neighbors? Locate Littlejohn’s land on map. Also, there are more brothers and sisters, need to locate names, check marriage and death records, etc.

Luke’s son Jason Luke named one of his sons after his brother Jason, will need to establish birthdates in order to keep them straight. There are more than one Jason Goins in the area and one went to Ohio, was it Luke’s brother or his son, or another?

How many Jason Goins are there in Loudoun Co? The son Jason is living with him, will assume Littlejohn since he signed on the document. He was living with him as an apprentice, so what did John Littlejohn do to have apprentice? Did Jason now have a trade?

How many others might of lived with Littlejohn, how close did he live near Luke and Margaret? Was this apprentice a common practice, was a there records/documents labeled as “apprentice”?

Spelling It doesn’t count in genealogy, just keep track; Goin, Goen, Goens, Goins, Goings, Gowin, Gowins, etc.

The Luke Goin certificate is basically a paragraph. But look how much and how many questions rose out of this one document. There is much more to do regarding the information listed in the documents. It seems as though I am just getting started learning about a community in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Now what is really interesting is that you can hand the document to another researcher and they probably will add to your list with additional questions or leads for you to follow. I hope this helps you along your research path. Also, please read page 95 of the Black Laws of Virginia and note the information on page 95. There is more information as to who had to file these certificates and where they are, etc. Look for another blog on how to develop a research plan and deciding which steps to do first. Enjoy!

If you can add to the list, please share by leaving me a comment or email me at


Guild, Jane Purcell. (1996) Black Laws of Virginia. A summary of the Legislative Acts of Virginia concerning Negroes from earliest time to the present. Complied by Karen Hughes White & Joan Peters, Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, Virginia, page 95.

Loudoun County Virginia (12 Dec. 1795) Misc. Papers, Free Blacks, Luke Goin Certificate of Freedom.

SO WHAT! -Developed by Dr. Shelley Murphy June 2013.

8 responses to “SO WHAT Mr. Luke Goins-I have your Certificate of Freedom, now what?”

  1. Linda Jean Taylor Avatar
    Linda Jean Taylor

    Information provided in this post was an excellent example for how to perform genealogical research. The suggestion of using the “So What” method appears to be sound research for analyzing documents, looking for leads in order to find ancestors, ways to substantiate important leads, and how to connect the dots. This is something that I will add to my list of learning tools.

    1. Thank you! Keep asking questions.

    2. MAAGI registration is open you are welcome to register for Track 1.

    3. Thank you, I try to keep it simple so folks will keep doing it.

  2. And John Littlejohn was a sheriff and Methodist pastor in Loudoun.

    1. Yes and he signed the certificate, it’s amazing and thanks for reading. there is more to come on Luke Goins, he owned 159 acres.

  3. You can find so much information on a single document sometimes if you really look.

    1. Thank you Kristin! Let the records tell the story

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