The 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.”
Here’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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Recently, Genealogy Gems Premium member Mary Ann shared some beautiful family history crafts with us. One is this exquisite family history photo display she made for a cousins’ gift exchange. It’s a collage concept that incorporates pictures with mementos and meaningful embellishments, but in a beautifully orderly fashion.
“This was so easy to make,” Mary Ann wrote. “The hardest part was rounding up the photos I wanted to use, then sizing them to fit the appropriate little openings. I use Photoshop Elements for my photos and digital scrapbooking so I cropped and sized the photos there, put them all into one larger page so I could print all at once, printed a draft on printer paper to make sure the photos were the correct size then printed my good version on photo paper.
“When I made the photo tray a few years ago, I found the tray in my local Archiver’s scrapbooking store. Archiver’s has since closed their retail stores but they sell online. I was looking at their site last night and found the same item for sale that I used in my project. Here is thelinkto the item.
“I cut out my photos, some of which filled the entire little opening, but if they didn’t, I added some scrapbook paper as a background to those. The “generations” and “ancestry” tags, as well as the ovals, flowers and key, are all scrapbooking embellishments. I used little pieces of ribbon under the outhouse photo, as a bow on the key and to cover the “handle” of the tray. I had some leftover lace I used to trim the bottom of the box. I copied a piece of a census record that showed my grandparents’ names and some of my aunts and uncles. I used acid-free double sided tape made for scrapbooking to attach it all. And I found the little frame to put on my grandfather’s photo.”
Mary Ann also hopes to create a photo tray like this for her son’s school photos (she saw the idea online) but hasn’t gotten to it yet. But she got a lot of mileage out of the one she did finish. “I made a total of 6 of these, all alike, and gave the remainders later as Christmas gifts to my mom, an aunt and a couple cousins,” she tells us. “And I was even clever enough to keep on for myself. My aunt told me she cried when she opened it and saw what it was.”
I remember little display trays like this being popular in the 1970s or 1980s, too. I’ve seen them at resale and antique shops, and tucked away in friends’ basements and attics. You may be able to find vintage trays that are less-expensive than the new ones. This inspiring idea made me wonder what mementos, tiny memorabilia, embellishments and even photocopied genealogy records I would tuck into my own version of this project.
In honor of Independence Day in the United States, AmericanAncestors.org is offering free access to databases on early New England ancestors starting TODAY through July 8.
If you have Mayflower, Pilgrim or Puritan ancestors (or want to confirm the rumor that you do!), you’ll want to take advantage of this offer from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. For many years the society has been researching “the 20,000 men, women, and children who crossed the Atlantic between 1620 and 1640, seeking opportunity and relief in New England.”
The Great Migration Study Project, as their work is known, has resulted in several databases, nine of which are open to the public for FREE during the first week of July 2015:
The Great Migration Begins. This database “attempts to identify and describe all those Europeans who settled in New England prior to the end of 1633,” states an NEHGS press release. “As a rough estimate, about 15 percent of the immigrants to New England arrived in the fourteen years from 1620 to 1633, with the remaining 85 percent coming over in half as many years, from 1634 to 1640.”
The Great Migration Newsletter. “This database comprises Volumes 1 through 20 of the Great Migration Newsletter, published between 1990 and 2011. Each 32-page issue contains one or two feature articles, a column with editor’s comments, and a review of recent literature on the Great Migration. Each issue also contains a section with detailed coverage of one of the towns settled during the Great Migration, or of a specific critical record, or group of records.”
The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, Volumes I—VII, A-Y. (7 separate databases) “As many as 2,500 people immigrated in 1634 and again in 1635….In May 1634, the population of Massachusetts doubled in just one month….Each alphabetical entry for a family or individual includes:
Place of origin, if known
Date and ship on which they arrived in New England, if known
Earliest known record of the individual or family
First residence and subsequent residences, when known
Return trips to their country of origin, whether temporary or permanent
Bibliographical information such as birth, death, marriage(s), children, and other important family relationships, church memberships, and civil and military offices held.”
Click here to access these databases for free between July 1-8, 2015. (Registration at AmericanAncestors.org is required as a FREE Guest Member.)
Looking for more FREE New England genealogy resources? Check out these blog posts!
Do you use Evernote for Genealogy? Genealogists everywhere are singing its praises and it’s a regular feature here on Genealogy Gems. Well, Evernote just got a little better today.
Evernote has just released a new web clipper and it oozes with awesomeness. It works with Safari, and may be the catalyst for reluctant Windows users to finally say goodbye to Internet Explorer and make the commitment to Google’s Chrome web browser.
My favorite feature (so far) of Evernote’s new web clipper is easy to spot. The Screenshot clipper that was once only available using the desktop app is now built right into the browser web clipper. You gotta love it!
But it doesn’t stop there. Once you have clipped the desired web content, there are a load of new annotations you can add to highlight what’s important to you.
Watch the video to see it in action:
Here are some key features:
The Evernote Web Clipper has been updated on Chrome, Opera, and Safari. You’ll need to restart your browser once it’s updated.
Clipping from Gmail, LinkedIn, YouTube and Amazon has been customized to allow you to clip only the parts of the page you want. It saves as a clean and clutter-free note. With Gmail, Web Clipper includes any email attachments.
You can share clips right from the new Web Clipper. You can even embellish clips with text and visual callouts.
You can assign clips to notebooks and tags right from the clip screen. The more clips you save, the better Evernote gets at predicting where you want it saved.
We learn about great new genealogy records online every week! On Fridays we round up a few for you. Watch for databases and documents that your ancestors might appear in–and get inspired by the types of records that may be out there for your family, waiting for you to discover. This week: Michigan death certificates; Zimbabwe death notices, wills and trusts and an oral history archive of New Zealand nursing.
MICHIGAN DEATHS. Images of Michigan death certificates from 1921-1939 are now available for free at Seeking Michigan. “The index for records from 1940-1952 will be made available in the next few weeks, with additional certificate images to be released each year as privacy restrictions are lifted (1940 images will be released in January 2016),” says a press release.
“Together with the records from 1897-1920 that have been available at the site for years, this collection makes Seeking Michigan the one-stop destination for more than 2.6 million free, publicly-available 20th century death records for Michigan ancestors.”
ZIMBABWE DEATH NOTICES. Over 130,000 indexed and browsable records from the Zimbabwe, Death notices,1904–1976 are now available on FamilySearch. According to the description, “The records included in this collection consist of death notices and registers obtained from the National Archives at Harare and Salisbury, Zimbabwe. The collection includes indexes of closed and open files. The records are written in English. It appears those records that are labeled ADM are probably administrations which are separate from the death registers and they contain wills and living Trust records. Birth and death registrations did not include African tribal members until 1963.”
NEW ZEALAND ORAL HISTORIES. A new web archive of oral histories of New Zealand nursesis now available. “The aim of this website is to capture this rich history and create a resource that nurses, students, academics and family members can access in order to gain a better understanding of nursing history in New Zealand,” says the site’s home page. The site contains a “large collection of oral histories including abstracts, recordings, photos and other information. These histories have been collected from nurses who trained during the 1950s and 1960s and capture both the everyday elements of nursing practice along with some of the more unusual. Here you are able to listen to stories, read brief abstracts, and view photos of the nurses.” Got a story to tell? They are accepting new interviews. There’s also a section on hospitals and one on nursing uniforms.
Not sure how to find record sets like these for YOUR family history? Here’s a tip! If your keyword searches for record types aren’t bringing up good results, try switching the order of the search terms. In English-language searches, word order counts.
This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.