Familysearch.org is going to eventually crush the major paid genealogy websites. They are digitizing Freedmens Bureau records at a furious pace. I lost my mind when I found out that they had uploaded the Field Office records for Maryland. My entire week is shot!
Look at what they have thus far:
I did a post on researching Freedmens Bureau records sometime ago. NARA has a page dedicated to links and resources about the Bureau records. They have a finding aid that an intern wrote that is tremendously helpful for genealogists.
You will need to download the descriptive pamphlet from the NARA website for your research state before diving into these records. Making these records accessible online is a major step forward. The records are notoriously complicated and mostly unindexed and unpaginated.
Nicholas Mockabee’s Complaint
The rewards of these records are many, even if you find nothing for a specific ancestor. These records illuminate the post-war lives of former slaves and the struggles they faced like few other sources.
I stayed up way too late last night paging through the records for Montgomery County, Maryland. Indeed, I found a record about a collateral ancestor, Nicholas Mockabee:
Nicholas faced one of the most common problems freedpeople had after emancipation: trying to get paid for the work they did. The Freedmens Bureau Complaints are replete with the violence meted out on freedpeople during the period. I discussed that more in my post about reconstruction.
The monthly and annual reports that officers had to submit to their superiors are invaluable. The ones I downloaded last night gave the most complete picture of what my ancestors dealt with in the local community between 1865 and 1867. They also describe efforts of the freedpeople to create schools, and secure their children back from whites who refused to “release” them. This practice was a particularly egregious in Maryland. Maryland illegally “apprenticed” thousands of children, in a blatant effort to extend the reach of slavery.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.