This is going to allow many Black families to trace their roots!
The world’s most extensive digitized collection of Freedmen’s Bureau records is now available on Ancestry.com, The Grio reports.
More than 3.5 million Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank records have now been added to Ancestry.com. The collection is the largest digitized and searchable collection of Freedmen’s Bureau records. It will now allow the descendants of formerly enslaved people in the U.S. to trace their family histories more easily. The documents are surmised to be the first time newly freed Black people appeared in records post-emancipation in 1863. Before the Freedmen’s record collecting, enslaved people were not included in the Census and federal documents.
“I think the data that is being made available now is just such an enormous wellspring of information to help, sort of paints a picture of what life was like then. As well as specifically for individuals, to connect them to people in the past who otherwise, they would never know about,” Michael B. Moore, African American history and Reconstruction era expert, said.
Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau towards the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Its goal was to assist formerly enslaved Black people with several tasks, including negotiating labor contracts, legalizing marriages, and locating lost relatives. The Bureau also provided food, housing, education, and medical care to more than 4 million people, including poor whites and veterans displaced by war. A recent Harris Poll survey by Ancestry shows that despite the enormous contributions of the organization, 72% of Americans had never heard of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Still, it was pivotal during a turning point in America and continues to impact the lives of U.S. citizens today.
Ancestry hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss the significance of the collection and the Bureau’s continued impact on the U.S., and how the collection can create opportunities for Black Americans to discover their ancestry. Moore, genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith, and Morehouse Africana Studies professor Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado were included at the roundtable.
“Well, the Freedmen’s Bureau, in my opinion, is probably the first large-scale social service program that we see in our country’s history. We are really looking at this broad, just expansive program covering 15 states, you know, where you are really getting a bird’s eye view into some of these really small communities where folks were struggling in some ways to try and get information on this time span,” said Sewell-Smith.
She also shared that she spent 14 years going through the collection image by image, and the fact that it is now digitized is a game-changer for people.
Dr. Sims-Alvarado spoke about that change, saying, “It’s going to change our perception about freedpeople and the lengths they went through in order to have control over their own lives...Those writing history did not consider the perspectives of how Black people experienced and defined freedom. But, we see how they sought their own freedom and personal, political and economic autonomy.”
Users will be able to access the complete collection in its entirety for free with just the simple search of a name. It is the hope that people will use the added collection to deep dive into their history and discover more about themselves and where they come from.
“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,” said Sewell-Smith.
The Freedmen’s Bureau collection is available for free at www.Ancestry.com/Freedmens.
Photo Courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration