Celebrate Juneteenth by Searching Freedmen’s Bureau Records

Multi generation black family look at each other in garden

Juneteenth is an important historical and joyous holiday that celebrates the abolition of slavery. It begins June 19 and lasts at least that day, a week, or an entire month.

What is Juneteenth?

The Juneteenth celebration commemorates June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the freeing of enslaved people. The formerly enslaved began the celebration of Juneteenth (Emancipation Day)  in the streets of Galveston. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated by millions of people throughout the nation.

General Gordon Granger enforced the freeing of slaves which led to Juneteenth.
General Gordon Granger (right).

What are the Freedmen’s Bureau Records?

In March of 1865, the Federal Government created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau. The goal of the Bureau was to help 4 million enslaved people make the transition to freedom.

The Freedmen’s Bureau had vast responsibilities. It provided needful services including rations, medical care, employment assistance, and support for education. Two hundred hospitals were built and 4,000 schools were established.

And of course, where such orchestrated government support services were offered, and abundance of records were required. This can be a great resource for those researching their African American roots during this time period.

Freedmen’s Bureau records include:

  • Documentation of the legalization of marriages entered during slavery
  • Labor contracts (the beginning of share cropping)
  • Military payment registers
  • Hospital logs

5th Anniversary of the Freedmen’s Bureau Project

Many of these records were brought to light thanks to the work of volunteers in their participation of the Freedmen’s Bureau project. Six years ago, FamilySearch made the announcement to begin a national wide effort to index these works.

More than 25,000 volunteers participated in the project coast to coast in the United States and Canada. Out of the four million people who were enslaved, participants uncovered the names of nearly 1.8 million of them.

Searching the Freedmen’s Bureau Records

An example of freedman's bureau records.

Robin Foster, a National Genealogy Examiner and a member of the South Carolina Genealogical Society suggests the Freedman Bureau records are crucial to tracing your African American genealogy back past 1870.

Records from the Slave Era in the U.S. are so valuable because they create the bridge from before the Civil War—when few records existed that mention identifying information about individual enslaved people—to the 1870s where formerly enslaved individuals began appearing. Records give names, dates of birth, marriage, and death. Additionally, records provide clues to past slave owners and locations.

The value of a single Bureau record to your family tree can be very exciting. Janis Forté, a lecturer, author, and publisher, and Recording Secretary of the Afro-American Genealogical and Historical Society of Chicago, was able to trace back three generations from one record. It even mentioned his slave ancestor’s daughters’ names and their married names. He discovered a great-great uncle had two marriages, one he didn’t know about.

Their records can bridge the genealogical gap from slavery to freedom.

Note that the “Virginia, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” and “United States, Freedmen's Bureau Ration Records,1865-1872” collections have been recently updated.

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