November 24, 2017

Find Your Ancestors in Freedmen’s Bureau Records–or Help Others Do the Same

freedmens bureau announcementThe more I learn about U.S. history and records, the more I appreciate the challenges faced by those researching their African-American roots. In addition to the emotional toll of learning about their ancestors’ hardships, today’s researchers face the practical challenges of finding kin in records that mostly ignored their existence.

That’s why I’m super excited that the Freedmen’s Bureau records are finally being fully indexed. Scattered records are already transcribed (see the Freedmen’s Bureau Online). But there hasn’t been a comprehensive index of its 1.5 million state field agency documents. These include military pensions, marriage records, property claims, hospital records, trial summaries, labor contracts, school rolls, registers and censuses. Many of the four million African-Americans freed from slavery are mentioned, as are many white Southerners.

FamilySearch indexers began quietly indexing Freedmen’s Bureau records in 2009: the state of Virginia’s records are already searchable. Last week, in observance of the Juneteenth holiday (which celebrates emancipation), FamilySearch issued a call to action. They asked for help indexing the rest of the Freedmen’s Bureau within the year.

“Records, histories and stories will be available on DiscoverFreedmen.org,” says a release. “Additionally, the records will be showcased in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is currently under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and expected to open in late 2016.”

freedmens bureau infographicHere’s a quick history lesson: The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized after the Civil War to aid newly-freed slaves in 15 states and Washington, DC. For several years it gathered “handwritten, personal information on freed men, women and children, including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records,” according to FamilySearch.

The richest genealogical records of the Freedmen’s Bureau are in the field office records of each state. Click here to download a PDF from the National Archives about these original records.

Find more tips on finding African-American and other Southern U.S. ancestors here on the Genealogy Gems website. Recent posts include:

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About Sunny

Sunny Morton is a genealogy writer whose work is read by thousands in magazines and online. As a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, she frequently posts on the news, but also loves to share quick research tips, reveal little-known resources or take genealogists for an exhilarating dive into deeper research topics and techniques. She's also the author of My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories.