Having trouble finding records for your ancestors who were Freedmen? A new resource might inspire you to try again. Records from the Freedmen’s Bureau have been digitized are some are already accessible.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was the popular name for the United States Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. It was established by Congress in 1865. The purpose of the Freedmen’s Bureau was to help former black slaves in the South after the Civil War.
A Freedman, or a Freedwoman, was a former slave who had been released from slavery through legal means. Around 4 million slaves gained their freedom after the Union won the Civil War. The Freedmen’s Bureau helped this group by providing food, housing, medical aid, legal assistance, and by establishing schools.
Until recently, genealogists who wanted to view records from the Freedmen’s Bureau had limited access to it. It was a government agency, and people had to travel to Washington in order to view the records. The records had not been put online.
Recently, FamilySearch collaborated with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum, to make the Freedmen’s Bureau records more accessible.
FamilySearch, which is a service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been working on digitizing the records. The Church obtained copies of the Freedmen’s Bureau Records that were on microfilm and scanned them so that they could be digitized by a name index.
The work is not yet complete. They still need to be organized and indexed into a computer. Some of the records are handwritten reports that were in the form of letters. Ideally, the goal is to get all the names of the Freedmen indexed by the time Fall of 2016, when the National Museum of African American History and Culture will open.
Genealogists who want to get involved in the indexing project can get started at The Freedmen’s Bureau Project. The website is run by FamilySearch. They need tens of thousands of volunteers to make these records searchable online. You can help as a volunteer, with as many documents as you like, and in whatever time you have available to work on the project.
If still can’t find information about your ancestor, who was a Freedman or Freedwoman, don’t worry! Check back again in a while. The project is in progress with new data being added as it is indexed. Another resource is The Freedmen’s Bureau Online website which has more information and links to archives.
Image by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr.
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