Menu
In the News

Learn more about your Civil War Era ancestors in honor of Juneteenth


Which of your ancestors were alive when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863? How old were they? What were they doing?

In honor of Juneteenth National Independence Day, FamilySearch is inviting all to learn more about their ancestors from the Civil War Era. A new FamilySearch experience allows users to discover their ancestors when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

“There’s no better time to look at your family history than when we celebrate history,” said Thom Reed, FamilySearch director of African Heritage initiatives in North America and deputy chief genealogical officer.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth — short for “June Nineteenth” — is also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day. It commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States. 

On Jan. 1, 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free enslaved individuals in the Confederate States. He announced that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State … shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” 

Two and half years later, on June 19, 1865, United States federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and enforce the freeing of all enslaved people. Texas was the last state to free slaves. On that day, former slaves began the celebration of Emancipation Day in the streets of Galveston. 

In June 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday

“We’re taking the opportunity celebrate this first Juneteenth National Independence Day federal holiday to introduce patrons to their ancestors who were alive when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed,” Reed said. “That way they can see ‘I have a connection to this. My people were alive in this time and were probably impacted.'”

FamilySearch’s Juneteenth campaign

Those with a FamilySearch.org account can log in at FamilySearch.org/campaign/juneteenth and discover their ancestors when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. 

Upon signing in, a web page displays a brief overview of an ancestor’s life on Jan. 1, 1863, including how old they were at the time and where they were born. A timeline features members of that person’s family at the time of the proclamation, including their ages and birthplaces. Users can scroll through several ancestor profiles. 

A screenshot of FamilySearch’s discovery experience for Juneteenth shows a brief overview of Charles Hopkins Allen’s life when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863.

A screenshot of FamilySearch’s discovery experience for Juneteenth shows a brief overview of Charles Hopkins Allen’s life when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863.

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Reed said he was pleasantly surprised to learn that his second great-grandfather, John Wesley Butts Sr., was 24 years old at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“This directly impacted this man who was in Mississippi, who at 24 years old, he was enslaved. And he was alive to see not only the Emancipation Proclamation but to celebrate Juneteenth,” Reed said. Butts lived to age 98.

“This campaign in particular was personal to me because I was able to put my ancestor in a different context and look at them in a different lens,” he added.

This discovery experience also offers resources for learning about abolitionists who helped end slavery — such as Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sojourner Truth — and an option for users to see if they are related. 

A screenshot of FamilySearch’s discovery experience for Juneteenth shows information about abolitionists, like Fredrick Douglass, who helped end slavery.

A screenshot of FamilySearch’s discovery experience for Juneteenth shows information about abolitionists, like Fredrick Douglass, who helped end slavery.

Credit: FamilySearch.org

Users will find resources for learning more about the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth, as well as searching African American records and Civil War Era records. 

Those without a FamilySearch account can search these records and access several resources and research helps at FamilySearch.org/en/info/juneteenth.  

“Just take the time to celebrate and remember history and what it means to you and your family,” Reed said of Juneteenth. “Make it meaningful for you and your own family.”

Resources for finding Civil War Era ancestors

Civil War Era resources and research helps:

African American resources and research helps:

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed