Emancipation Celebration

Emancipation Celebration

Familysearch released three more sets of Freedmens Bureau Field Office records recently.Now, the Bureau field office records for all southern states  are online, free for viewing!

Sign in at Familysearch.org, click on “Browse the records,” and then type “Freedmen” in the search box and the links for each state will appear. I cannot overemphasize how valuable these records are for African-American research during Reconstruction. A lot could and did happen in the chaos of those five years between the end of the war and 1870.

Getting Started

These records, mostly unpaged and unindexed, are one of the few collections that remain untapped by genealogists. The fact that you can now sit at home and examine these records is astounding. I urge everyone to read some of the material about how to use these records and to get started.

Angela Walton-Raji has set up a new website with resources. National Archives also created one of my favorite finding aids.

They are still what I call “needle in the haystack” records. It took me years to find anything on my family. But, when you do find something, it tends to be something very good.

Just as important as information on individuals are the letters and reports that discuss the community. The building of churches and schools, and the descriptions of the economic and racial climate provide social history that can add meat to the bones of our research.

Rockville, Maryland Report

For example, the Superintendent of the Rockville Freedmens Bureau, where my relatives lived,  had this to say about the community in 1867:

The difficulties encountered in obtaining justice for the Freedmen are those incident to the opposition of a large majority of the community as well as to that of all the civil officers of the county (with the exception of two magistrates) who will do no more for the Freedmen than they are forced to, and that with a very bad grace,

they also use their influence to dissuade Freedmen from prosecuting cases against white men and endeavor to counteract my influence with them—intimidation and misrepresentation are resorted to by the people to prevent Freedmen from bringing their complaints to this office, and where complaints have already been entered, to prevent them from testifying.

Washington, D.C. Marriage Register

In the Washington, D.C. marriage records contain beautifully written registers of marriage, many from Virginia and Maryland couples. Escaped slaves poured into D.C.  during the war. The registers contain lots of information on each couple.

Freedmens Bureau register

Register Clipping

The register noted noted a couple’s origins, year of marriage and number of children. This registrar wrote interesting little notes such as:

“Grantlin is very intelligent and industrious, and his children can read well.”
“Smith is a Baptist minister, Is intelligent and industrious. Owns house and lot.”
“Roswell is a Plasterer. Has steady employment and good wages.”

Some of the comments weren’t very flattering, such as:

“This man is sad to be very abusive to his wife.”

One couple was described as “A rather worthless couple.” That really makes you wonder about what behavior elicited that comment!

Another amazing notation was this one: “Scott was separated from his first wife 22 years ago, and having heard from her lately, wishes to leave the present one and live with the first, by whom he has several grown children, but none by the last.”

First wife

That broke my heart just a little bit.

This cold weather gives us the perfect excuse to start digging through these records! Please share in the comments any interesting information you discovered in the Freedmen’s Bureau records.


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