Monday, June 22, 2015

Understanding and Exploring Freedmen's Bureau Records

Many of us watched the announcement several days ago of the new indexing project presented by Family Search, elders of the LDS church, and leaders from the African American genealogy community.  It is encouraging to know that an effort to index these records has now unfolded.

As genealogists, our task is not only to collect information, but also to tell the story, cite the correct record group for our data accurately, and to present it clearly for others to follow. As we begin to negotiate these post Civil War records, it is important that the records are fully understood.

So what are these records?
These records reflect the business conducted by the US military after the Civil War. The goal was to assist the communities affected by war, and to assist with bringing order throughout the south.

What is the official name of this agency?
The official name is the Bureau of Refugee, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. It has been a part of the National Archives records categorized as Record Group 105.

Who were the people served by the Bureau?

Refugees were southern whites, left destitute and homeless after the  Civil War.
Rations Issued to white refugees in Ozark Arkansas.
Source of Image: Internet Archive

Freedmen were people of color, black people, recently freed from bondage.
Roster of Freedmen employees in Sevier County Arkansas
National Archives M1901 Roll 18

Abandoned Lands pertained to property of white land owners of plantations and farms abandoned during war.

Document reflecting lands abandoned in Jacksonport Arkansas
National Archives M1901 Roll 6

What kind of records are there to be found in the Bureau?

*There are ration records, reflecting people who receive rations of food and clothing. Recipients of these rations were white, black and in western Arkansas, there were even cases of Indians receiving rations.

*There are marriage records reflecting many former slaves wanting to have their marriages officially recorded.

*There are bounty records reflecting payments to Union soldiers, many of whom were US Colored Troops.

*There are transportation records of freedmen being relocated to other states, fleeing terror in their old communities.

* There are school records, some reflecting student enrollment of black children being taught to read without punishment.

* There are hospital records, from the many freedmen hospitals that were created during and after the war. Some suffered from disease, such as measles, typhod, cholera, and others from injuries.

*There are countless letters from citizens requesting assistance in bringing children back, still held in bondage. Other letters reflect decisions made to settle disputes between Freedmen and employers refusing to pay former slaves wages.

The potential is there for many more chapters to be opened in America's post Civil War story. The need is for all of the genealogy community to get involved, and hopefully the appeal to bring these records to life will be felt by all.

To find the field offices for the bureau, visit Mapping the Freedmen's Bureau. The records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, belong to all of us. It is an American record set with an American story, still to tell.

Join the Indexing Project

No comments: