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African American Family History

Freedmen’s Bureau Records

About the Freedmen's Bureau

Towards the end of the Civil War, the U.S. federal government established the established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau). The Freedmen's Bureau operated out of the War Department and lasted from 1865-1872.

In the years following the Civil War, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) provided assistance to tens of thousands of former slaves and impoverished whites in the Southern States and the District of Columbia. The war had liberated nearly four million slaves and destroyed the region's cities, towns, and plantation-based economy. It left former slaves and many whites dislocated from their homes, facing starvation, and owning only the clothes they wore. The challenge of establishing a new social order, founded on freedom and racial equality, was enormous.

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration


Impact of These Records

These records present the genealogist and social historian with an unequaled wealth of information that extends the reach of black family studies. Documents such as local censuses, marriage records, and medical records provide freedpeople's full names and former masters; Federal censuses through 1860 listed slaves only statistically under the master's household.

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Repositories Providing Access to the Digitized Records

Digitized copies of the Freedmen's Bureau records available at three different online repositories. None of these provide an every-name index. Be sure to consult the finding aids below for assistance on finding the records most relevant to your ancestral locations. For additional help learning how to find and analyze these records, consult the "Learning More" tab to the right.

All of the following repositories make the collection freely available, however none have been fully indexed yet.

Finding Aids

These archival finding aids are essential for understanding the organization and arrangement of the Freedmen's Bureau collection, regardless of which repository you use to access the digitized records.

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The Freedman's Bank

About the Freedman's Bank

The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, popularly known as the Freedman's Bank, was incorporated by Congress on March 3, 1865, and the bank maintained some 37 offices in 17 states, including the District of Columbia.

While the failure of the Freedman's Bank was tragic and left many African Americans with feelings of distrust of the American banking system, the records created by the bank are a rich source of documentation for black family research for the period immediately following the American Civil War.

What makes these records so important are the thousands of signature cards that contain personal data about the individual depositors. In addition to the names and ages of depositors, the files can contain their places of birth, residence, and occupations; names of parents, spouses, children, brothers, and sisters; and in some cases, the names of former slave owners. The records however, are not indexed; thus making research in them time consuming and frustrating.

Source: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Learn How to Work with these Records

Where to Access these Records