Ancestry Adds New Freedmen's Bureau Collection

Ancestry spotlighted an important, yet often overlooked, part of American history by unveiling the world’s largest digitized and searchable collection of Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank records. This addition of more than 3.5 million records can help descendants of previously enslaved people in the U.S. learn more about their families.

The collection can enable meaningful family history breakthroughs because it is likely the first time newly freed African Americans would appear in records after Emancipation, as many enslaved people were previously excluded from the standard census and federal documents. The comprehensive collection is now available for every to search for free at

The Freedmen’s Bureau was created near the end of the American Civil War to help formerly enslaved people transition from slavery to citizenship by providing food, housing, education and medical care. It supported more than 4 million people, which also included some impoverished white people and veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops. Bureau records include labor contracts, rations, apprenticeships, letters, marriages and more. Freedman’s Bank records, which are also part of the digitized collection, include family members’ names, thousands of signature cards, and details about the individual depositors. 

Despite its significance, awareness of the Freedmen’s Bureau is very low. According to a Harris Poll survey by Ancestry, a staggering 72% of Americans surveyed have never heard of the Freedmen’s Bureau. However, nearly all of those familiar with the Freedmen’s Bureau (90%) believe it was a turning point in American history and that it still impacts Americans’ lives today, and 87% of Americans surveyed agree that it is important for the public to have access to historical records–like those saved by the Freedmen’s Bureau–in order for African Americans to be able to trace their family roots.

Ancestry is proud to play a role in helping people find their personal connection to the past and untold stories of those who shaped our nation’s history. 

“Free access to this collection will enable meaningful Black family history discoveries for generations to come,” says Nicka Sewell-Smith, Professional Genealogist. “Finding your ancestors’ names and stories on Ancestry is possible and unearthing them can shine a light that helps guide us going forward. Learning about the resiliency of those who came before us and the obstacles they overcame inspires us to know we can do the same.”

Related Articles on

Ancestry Works to Bring Black Family Histories Forward

Four Million Freedman’s Bureau Records Released

Database of Freed Slaves

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