I made a big discovery recently courtesy of Familysearch’s newly indexed Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contracts.
A Little Background
Several years ago, I used cluster research to trace my Tennessee ancestor Mike Fendricks back to his Alabama roots.
At a standstill with Mike, I traced the roots of Dee Suggs, a man Mike lived with in 1920. Mike and Dee, I concluded after reviewing all the evidence, were likely brothers.
I eventually found them living with their mother Sophronia Suggs in this 1870 Franklin County, Alabama household (Dee’s name is “Dewitt”):
This new discovery turns that presumption into fact. The January 1866 Freedmen’s Bureau labor contract between Thomas Suggs and “a lot of freed people” included:
“Frony, aged thirty-two and her four children, to wit, Frank, 15 years of age, Mike 10 years, Carry, 6 years, Dee, three years of age…”
Thomas Sugg was very likely Sophronia’s former owner.
It’s sad to read the lengthy and detailed Sugg agreement. Frony was just signing up for something that was an extension of and as close as possible to actual slavery.
One phrase from the document summarizes the central problem with this arrangement:
“the freed people…may at any time be driven from the farm without any pay for labor they may have performed.”
We know from the Freedmens Bureau’s own records that this happened over and over again. Families were forced off the land without pay once the crop came in.
Feel free to download and read my transcription of Frony’s entire labor contract:
Freedmens Bureau Records
Freedmen’s Bureau records are an unparalleled resource for understanding the lives of the roughly four million former slaves. They offer a look inside the chaotic five years before the 1870 census.
Notoriously hard to research, I offered a strategy for approaching Freedmen’s Bureau records some years ago. If you are new to these records, please refer to that post to get some ideas on how to start.
Familysearch’s indexing of some of these records is tremendously useful. However, keep in mind that ALL the Freedmen’s Bureau records available at Familysearch are not yet indexed. There are many that still can only be searched by browsing each page.
I’m so happy to have found confirmation that Sophronia is my 3rd great-grandmother. I have had other successes in these records, so I hope you take a look at this invaluable resource.
If you have already found your ancestor in these records, please share it with us in the comments. Good luck!
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.