Freedmen's Bureau Project
FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is collaborating with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society to index the digitized records of the Freedmen’s Bureau.
As of December 2015, 10,000 indexing volunteers of the Freedmen's Bureau Project have made 15 percent of the records (440,865) searchable online. The goal of the project is make 1.5 million Civil War-era historical records fully indexed and available online in time for the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in November 2016.
The project was launched in Los Angeles on “Juneteenth,” June 19, 2015, the 150th anniversary celebration of Emancipation Day. At the event, Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke of the importance of the project and explained that the records were carefully preserved and protected over decades by the National Archives and Records Administration. He was executive director of the Church Family and Church History Department when the Church announced the completed and searchable index of the Freedmen’s Bank Records. The Freedmen's Bureau records are similar to but separate from the Freedmen's Bank records that have been available online at FamilySearch.org since 2001.
Thom Reed, project manager at FamilySearch, called for “volunteers, specifically those that have ties to these records, the African American community, to get involved with this to help us break down this brick wall to help us overcome these barriers in genealogical research and making these family connections.” He noted that in 1870 when the first census was taken that included African Americans as citizens, “if you try to go back before then, the records are scanty at best.”
The Freedmen’s Bureau, organized under an 1865 Congressional order at the conclusion of the Civil War, offered assistance to freed slaves in a multitude of ways. Handwritten records of these transactions include records such as marriage registers, hospital or patient registers, educational efforts, census lists, labor contracts and indenture or apprenticeship papers and others. The records were compiled in 15 states and the District of Columbia.