The Freedmen’s Bureau Project: Success Stories Are Possible


by Falande Swain

On August 2, 2016, an amazing family history discovery happened just by chance. On that day, 72 educators were in attendance at the New Jersey Amistad Commission Summer Institute at Kean University. FamilySearch representative Thom Reed provided an overview of the Freedmen’s Bureau Project to these educators. As part of his presentation, Thom asked the audience members to shout out random names from their family tree, and something extraordinary happened. Melvinia Knight, a hopeful attendee looking to fill some holes in her family history, shouted out her own last name. Thom chose that name, and together they searched recently published Freedmen’s Bureau records on for the last name Knight. The first name that came up was George Knight. When Thom clicked on the record, Melvinia was shocked to find the name of a woman named Sarah Jane, her great-great aunt.

Below is an image of the marriage record of Melvinia’s great-great-aunt Sarah Jane. It states that George Knight married Sarah Jane on July 10, 1864, in Natchez, Mississippi. Melvinia may have never found this information, or made this ancestral connection, without the indexed Freedmen’s Bureau records published online.

indexed Freedmen Bureau record

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project was created to help all Americans, especially African Americans, reconnect with their Civil War-era ancestors. Key partnerships between FamilySearch International and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) got the project started. But the help of 25,550 dedicated volunteers from all over the world, who indexed and arbitrated nearly 2 million records, really made it happen. On June 20, 2016, the indexing for the Freedmen’s Bureau Project was completed, making success stories like Melvinia’s possible.

Many of the Freedmen’s Bureau records are now published online. All of the indexed Freedmen’s Bureau records will be accessible on the FamilySearch website by September 24, 2016. Here are links to check out some of the records:

You can also access the Freedmen’s Bureau records by clicking on this link and in the Filter by collection box, typing the word freed.

Search the Freedmen’s Bureau records today to reconnect with your own Civil War-era roots. We want to hear about your personal experience in finding your ancestors in these records. By submitting your story, you may be featured in a Freedmen’s Bureau Project celebration video. The celebration will be held on December 6, 2016, in the Oprah Winfrey theater at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

Email us your story at:


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