Project: Railroad Ties

Shedding light on the Underground Railroad 

By the 1860s, nearly 100,000 slaves escaped via secret routes and safe houses in the United States, helped in secret by strangers via the Underground Railroad. Escaping or helping a slave to escape, could result in imprisonment or death.

01The challenge

It was critical that both enslaved people and those trying to help them escape left no trace of their effort. But by erasing all traces of their journey — and while they won their freedom — they lost their history.

02The solution

Enter Ancestry. As the leading family history company, Ancestry was uniquely qualified to use its data to uncover and celebrate long-hidden stories.

Birth, death and marriage certificates, census records, news articles, obituaries and generations of lineage from publicly shared family trees. All are part of Ancestry’s unsurpassed archives. Researchers analyzed hundreds of thousands of family records of those who escaped slavery, revealing their discoveries in a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film, “Railroad Ties,” captured how a group of strangers finally realized lost truths and family connections.

03The impact

History comes to life

The story became national news, capturing the public’s curiosity and tapping into a discussion on race, identity and the ties that bind us. It also restored the Underground Railroad for today’s generation to reclaim their history. In addition to 2M views of the documentary, Ancestry saw a more than 146% increase in search volume, a 10%+ increase in site traffic and 83% jump in intent to purchase.

2019: Bronze Lion in PR, Content-led Engagement & Marketing

2020: North America IN2 SABRE Awards Best in Brand Film/Video


2020: PRWeek U.S. Awards Campaign of the Year, Best in Multicultural Marketing, Broadcast / Film / Video & Data Insight

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