Celebrate Juneteenth by searching FamilySearch’s Freedmen’s Bureau records

Five years ago, FamilySearch announced the beginning of a nationwide effort to index Freedmen’s Bureau records, a project to connect African Americans with their Civil War-era ancestors. 

In honor of Juneteenth, Thom Reed, deputy chief genealogical officer of FamilySearch, joined Wendy Smedley for a Facebook live about the Freedmen’s Bureau records and other resources for researching African heritage.

Watch FamilySearch Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer Thom Reed and Wendy Smedley in a livestream celebrating Juneteenth and the fifth anniversary of the Freedmen's Bureau Project. Thom shares and discusses records and resources available by FamilySearch and FamilySearch partners to help individuals of African descent further their family history.

Posted by FamilySearch on Friday, June 19, 2020

The Freedmen’s Bureau records project began in 2015 in honor of the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Day, now known as Juneteenth. More than 25,000 volunteers working on this records project over the course of one year uncovered names of nearly 1.8 million of the 4 million slaves. 

Today, people can search Freedmen’s Bureau records to help bridge the genealogical gap in their African roots from the pre-Civil War era to the 1870s when records of former slaves began appearing.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was created in March 1865 to help slaves make the transition to freedom. Records from the bureau include documentation of the legalization of marriages entered during slavery, labor contracts, military payment registers, hospital logs, former slave owners and the number of children an enslaved person had. 

Thom Reed, deputy chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch, shows how to research the Freedmen Bureau record's during a Facebook live on June 19, 2020.
Thom Reed, deputy chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch, shows how to research the Freedmen Bureau record’s during a Facebook live on June 19, 2020. Credit: Screenshot FamilySearch YouTube

“The biggest message I can say is there’s hope,” said Reed of researching African heritage. “There’s so many entities that are trying to help. If you’re not having success today, come back tomorrow.”

He highlighted resources from the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina; Enslaved.org; SlaveVoyages.org; and FamilySearch’s ongoing Reclaiming our African Roots project.

“Take it in bite-sized pieces and be in it for the long haul,” Reed said. “Your ancestors will thank you. You will become your ancestors’ wildest dreams. And your family will thank you.”

To learn more about the Freedmen’s Bureau records project and search the records, visit FamilySearch.org or DiscoverFreedmen.org.