FamilySearch on Friday announced a new initiative to index records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.
This agency was set up after the Civil War to assist former slaves with food, housing, education, medical care, employment and legal needs. The bureau also documented marriages performed during slavery and helped displaced white Southerners.
This work created records such as labor contracts (such as the one above for freedman John Ramsey and his wife), court documents, marriage registers, correspondence, applications for aid, complaint reports and more.
For many formerly enslaved people, their interaction with the Freedmen’s Bureau was the first time they were named in official records—making Freedmen’s Bureau records an important resource for tracing African-American ancestors.
FamilySearch, along with the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum, has launched the Freedmen’s Bureau Project to mobilize volunteer indexers. They’ll view digitized images of Freedmen’s Bureau records and extract names and other details, creating a searchable index that will be free on FamilySearch.org.
On FamilySearch.org, you already can view the digitized records for Freedmen’s Bureau offices in 14 Southern states and Washington, DC, as well as records of bureau headquarters and hospitals. Find them by going to the FamilySearch collection list and typing freedmen in the Filter by Collection Name box at top left. But as yet only a few of FamilySearch’s Freedmen’s Bureau collections are indexed. As the Freedmen’s Bureau Project gains momentum, look for more of these records to become searchable.
Can’t wait? Ancestry.com subscribers can search digitized and indexed records for Freedmen’s Bureau field offices in five states plus New Orleans and Washington, DC, as well as headquarters records related to six states.
If you’re not a member or those don’t cover the places your ancestors lived, use the Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau tool to find digitized or microfilmed records for bureau offices in your ancestors’ locales. Find more on Freedmen’s Bureau records and other resources for tracing enslaved ancestors in our Slave Ancestors Research Guide.
FamilySearch announced the project on Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery that takes place on June 19.