Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Freedmen's Bureau Office Locations in Arkansas

When researching African American families, one essential part of the family is the story of their transition to life as free people, if they were once enslaved. This story is often overlooked and many researchers will research the family to 1870 and immediately start to look for the last slave holder. But many things occurred in those families between freedom and being enumerated in 1870. Some of those stories will be found in Freedman's Bureau records, also known officially as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, or simply Record Group 105

These records can be a challenge, as they are basically un-indexed, but beyond that, many researchers are not sure that if their even family used the services of the Bureau. The question arises, "if they were served by the Bureau, which Field Office would they have used?" In addition, many researchers are not aware of the location of the various field offices within their own state.

Since Arkansas is one of my ancestral states, I decided to locate a map of Arkansas, that reflected the various counties, and I have put a red symbol ( ) to mark the location of the offices.

It is understood that maps are essential tools in genealogical research, and in this case a clear understanding of the location of the bureau's offices should be considered a part of the historical geography of the state. If one has ancestors who lived near more than one Field Office, it would be wise to explore the offices of the "other" Field office as well, to see what is there.

To determine where they offices were I used the Descriptive Pamphlet produced by the National Archives. 
(This booklet can be downloaded directly from the National Archives website.)

I then located a map from the Arkansas Genweb page, that reflected the counties of the state. I then placed the red symbol near the township where the office was once located. In some of the counties this was a challenge as some of the townships no longer exist.

However, by marking the location of the field offices I now have a better idea of where to research. Also when learning the early history of the county, seeing these records can be useful to learn about the lives of the associates and neighbors of one's ancestors.

The Freedman's Bureau locations that I have marked on the map are:

Arkadelphia (Clark County) 
Augusta (Woodruff County)
Batesville (Independence County)
Camden (Ouachita County)
Lewisburg (Conway County)
Duvall's Bluff (Prairie County)
Ft. Smith (Sebastian County)
Hamburg (Ashley County)
Hampton (Calhoun County)
Helena (Phillips County)
Jacksonport (Upper White River - Jackson County)
Jacksonport (Jackson County)
Lake Village & Luna Landing (Chicot County)
Lewisville (Lafayette County)
Little Rock (Pulaski County)
Madison (St. Francis County)
Magnolia (Columbia County)
Marion (Crittendon County)
Monticello (Drew County)
Napoleon (Desha County)
Osceola (Mississippi County)
Ozark (Franklin County) Served Franklin and Johnson Counties
Paraclifta (Sevier County) Served also Little River County
It should also be pointed out that not only were former slaves served by the Bureau, but hundreds of white families also received rations and supplies in those days immediately after the Civil War. So those who have ancestral ties to the communities marked on the map above should pay close attention to those communities where such offices existed. Also note that wealthy white landowners are also reflected on the many labor contracts, as they were the employers of record.

Slowly, more records are becoming digitized, and this critical record set should become essential for all researchers of southern history.