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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Family History Reunion Ideas (or Weddings or BBQs…)

love_magnet_400_wht_12552Do you have a family reunion, wedding or another special family gathering coming up soon? I’ve been busy helping plan my youngest daughter’s wedding, and we are looking for ways to capture memories from our loved ones while they are all together.

Hannah and I aren’t the only ones looking to make the most of this exciting event. Genealogy Gems podcast listener Kirsty recently asked me how she could incorporate family history gathering at her upcoming wedding (Congratulations, Kirsty!) and here’s what I told her:

1. Search family reunion websites and other websites for ideas you can convert to a wedding reception. For example, Reunions Magazine has a page devoted to family history activity ideas for family reunions. A search of Google and Pinterest should help you find more ideas. Check out my Pinterest board called Incorporating Family History Into Your Wedding.

My Board: Incorporating Family History into Your Wedding

My Board: Incorporating Family History into Your Wedding

2. If you have  your guests seated at tables, that’s a great opportunity to provide an icebreaker that can double as a family history gathering opportunity. You could have a form at each place setting for them to fill out. If you are having a videographer, you could have a short list of questions at each table, and when he comes to their table he records them answering the questions. (What’s your earliest childhood memory?  Who’s the earliest ancestor you have a photograph of? What are three things you remember about great-grandmother? etc) Can you imagine how this Martha Stewart placecard on Pinterest (which I found by searching “family reunion history” at Pinterest) might be adapted this way?

3. If you they won’t be at tables, you could have a family history table (next to another table they are likely to visit such as guest book table) and have your activity there. Let them know that this is their gift to you. You could even have some sort of treat or little sticker they can wear that says “I shared the family history, have you?” (In the U.S. when you vote they often give you a little lapel sticker that says “I voted.”)  Or you could create the “Sweet Memories Candy Bars” that feature family history that I write about in my book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies.

I hope these ideas help inspire Kirsty and anyone who wants to gather their loved ones’ memories at their next family event!

See the Incredible Piece of History This Auctioneer Stumbled Into

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

HMS Alert in pack ice during the Arctic Expedition of 1875. Wikimedia Commons image; click to see image and full citation.

Every man-made object has a story behind it–and sometimes an entire chapter in history. One such object is a bottle of ale recently discovered in a garage in Shropshire, England. As reported by TheBlaze.com, a British auctioneer found the bottle. “It looked interesting, so I took a closer look — and, lo and behold, there on the cap were the words ‘Allsopp’s Arctic Ale,’ then embossed on the seal was ‘Arctic Expedition 1875.’”

Now the bottle is up for auction! Here’s the description from the auction site:

“An unopened bottle of Arctic Expedition beer dated 1875, with original intact label and contents. Allsopp’s Arctic Ale was brewed for The British Arctic Expedition of 1875. The Expedition was an attempt by the British Admiralty to reach the North Pole and included two ships HMS Alert and HMS Discovery under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Sir George Nares (1831-1915). Unfortunately the expedition failed to reach the pole but succeeded in mapping the coast lines of Greenland and Ellesmere Island.”

I wondered whether anyone else has sampled another bottle of ’75 Arctic brew. So I googled it. I found a beer blogger who loves the stuff! From Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile: Beer Now and Then blog post of June 10, 2012:

“One indisputably legendary beer is Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, the powerful, rich Burton Ale, original gravity 1130, north of 11 per cent alcohol, brewed in Victorian times….There are a very few bottles left of the Arctic Ale brewed for the expedition under Sir George Nares which set out in 1875 to reach the North Pole. And this week I drank some….

Amazingly, there was still a touch of Burtonian sulphur in the nose, together with a spectrum of flavours that encompassed pears, figs, liquorice, charred raisins, stewed plums, mint, a hint of tobacco, and a memory of cherries. It was dark, powerful and still sweet….Those frozen sailors on the 1875 British Arctic Expedition, some of whom set a new record for furthest north, traveling to within 460 miles of the North Pole, must have cheered whenever another bottle was thawed out and decanted into their mugs.”

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

Navy/Marine Corps Purple Heart Medal with gold 5/16 inch star and lapel button in presentation case. World War II. Wikepedia Commons image; click to view full citation.

What history do your family artifacts hold? Click here to read about other family heirlooms, lost and found, trashed or treasured, reported here on our blog, like a post about a Purple Heart medal like the one shown here.

Have you heard a great story like this? Post it on our Genealogy Gems Facebook page or email me!

 

10 Brothers Served in WWI: An Amazing Story

Tyne Cot Cemetery. Photo by Sgt Jez Doak, RAF/MOD, via Wikimedia Commons at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/War_Graves_at_Tyne_Cot_Cemetary%2C_Belgium_MOD_45156481.jpg

The Press (York, UK) recently reported a story about 10 brothers who all enlisted to fight in World War I and the hubbub that followed.

“The family became minor celebrities because of the brothers’ service, and their story was used as a recruitment tool as the war went on,” reports the Press. Fortunately, most of these Irish immigrant boys came home alive. The story reports the recent discovery of one of their graves.

Have you ever found something like this in your family–stories of extraordinary sacrifice made during wartime? Tell us about it on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

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