28 March 2016

Freedmen’s Bureau records are “color blind” – why everyone should check these records!

Freedmen’s Bureau records are “color blind” – why everyone should check these records!

The records of the Freedmen’s Bureau have been frequently in the news lately due to an initiative to index these records – The Freedmen’s Bureau Project1. This project has the tagline 

... helping African Americans reconnect with their Civil War­-era ancestors

These records are excellent for that purpose. During the seven years of its existence (1865-1872) and despite a lack of sufficient funding, it sought to provide help to four million former slaves.

However, researchers should not assume that entries found for a name of interest are for a freed slave. In fact, many of these records are “color-blind” and include records for both “colored” and “white” individuals. To qualify for support from the Freedmen’s Bureau, one only had to be declared poor, destitute, infirmed, or in some form of need. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, most people living from Delaware to Texas, regardless of race or original circumstances, would have qualified for support.

I have been researching in these records for many years focusing on North Carolina.  I find as many, if not more records documenting the widows and children of deceased or maimed civil war soldiers (Union & Confederate), aged and infirmed individuals, recent immigrants, and soldiers themselves, than those of freed slaves, especially when it comes to receiving rations (i.e., pork and corn).  

Many pertinent records are found in the Freedmen’s Bureau records of field offices for the various states. If you have immediate post-Civil War southern ancestry, CHECK OUT these records. Even if your family was not impoverished, they may have been party to a contract, required medical assistance (returning soldiers especially), been brought before a court managed by the Freedmen’s Bureau, or found in other records.

ALL southern researchers, regardless of color or circumstances, need to explore the hidden gems found in these records.

Learn more about these records at the upcoming NGS Conference, session T227 (Thursday, May 5, 2016, 11am-12pm), Freedmen’s Bureau Records – More Valuable to Anyone’s Southern Research Than You Might Have Thought! part of the African American track.

1 Partnership between FamilySearch, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum

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