United States Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages - FamilySearch Historical Records

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United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1861-1872
This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.

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Record Description
Record Type Freedmen Marriages and Registrations
Record Group RG 105: Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872
Collection years 1861-1872
Microfilm Publication M1875. Marriage Records of the Office of the Commissioner. 5 rolls.
National Archives Identifier 434
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites
National Archives and Records Administration

What is in This Collection?[edit | edit source]

This collection consists of marriage registers and certificates recorded by Bureau Officials for marriages performed by "any ordained minister of the gospel." Most of the marriages recorded are from 1865 and 1868 while others recorded may have taken place prior to the end of slavery.The date given is the original marriage date, while for others the date is the marriage was legalized. Some entries give the names of children born to the couple.

Most of the marriages are from the Commissioner's Office and are from NARA microfilm publication M1875 Marriage Records of the Office of the Commissioner, Washington Headquarters of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands,1861-1869 part of Record Group 105.

The registration of marriages is based on an order from the Bureau Commissioner from Circular No.5 dated May 30,1865:

"VIII The unity of families, and all the rights of the family relations, will be carefully guarded. In places where the local statutes make no provisions for the marriage of persons of color, the Asst. Commissioners are authorized to designate Officers who shall keep a records of marriages, which may be solemnized by any ordained minister of the gospel, who shall make a return of the same, with such items as may be required for registration at places designated by the Asst. Commissioners. Registrations made by US Officers will be carefully preserved." The circular will be found in NARA microfilm publication M742, roll 7 Selected Series of Records Issued by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen,and Abandoned Lands.

Further Reading

General Information About Freedmen's Bureau Records[edit | edit source]

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was established in the War Department in March of 1865. It was commonly called the Freedman’s Bureau and was responsible for the management and supervision of matters relating to refuges, freedmen, and abandoned lands. The Bureau assisted disenfranchised Americans, primarily African Americans, with temporal, legal and financial matters, with the intent of helping people to become self-sufficient. Matters handled included the distributing of food and clothing; operating temporary medical facilities; acquiring back pay, bounty payments, and pensions; facilitating the creation of schools, including the founding of Howard University; reuniting family members; handling marriages; and providing banking services. Banking services were provided by the establishment of the Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company, or Freedman’s Bank.

The Bureau functioned as an agency of the War Department from approximately June 1865 until December 1868. In 1872, the functions of the Bureau were transferred to the Freedmen’s Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office.

The Bureau assisted over one million African Americans, including many of the nearly four million emancipated slaves, which was over 25% of the population of former slaves in America.

The records identify those who sought help from the Bureau at the end of the Civil War. Most supplicants were freed slaves, some of which were military veterans. In addition, a few veterans who were not African Americans also sought help from the Bureau. Freedmen’s Bureau records are usually reliable, because the records were supplied through first-person correspondence or the recording of a marriage.

National Museum of African American History & Culture[edit | edit source]

The museum is working with the Smithsonian Transcription Center and volunteers to transcribe the records of the Bureau.

Image Visibility[edit | edit source]

Whenever possible FamilySearch makes images and indexes available for all users. However, rights to view these data are limited by contract and subject to change. Because of this there may be limitations on where and how images and indexes are available or who can see them. Please be aware some collections consist only of partial information indexed from the records and do not contain any images. For additional information about image restrictions see Restrictions for Viewing Images in FamilySearch Historical Record Collections.

To Browse This Collection[edit | edit source]

You can browse through images in this collection using the waypoints on the Collection Browse Page for United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1861-1872.

What Can These Records Tell Me?[edit | edit source]

Each marriage record contains some or all of the following information:

  • Date marriage was registered
  • Name and residence of groom
  • Groom's age and color
  • Color of groom's parents
  • How many years lived with another woman
  • Cause of the separation
  • Number of children by former companion
  • Name and residence of bride
  • Bride's age and color
  • Color of bride's parents
  • How many years lived with another man
  • Cause of the separation
  • Number of children by former companion
  • Number of children with present companion
  • Name of officiating minister
  • Sometimes, names and ages of children

Collection Content[edit | edit source]

Sample Images[edit | edit source]

This database combines two record groups created by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, as shown below:

  • “Marriage Records of the Office of the Commissioner, Washington Headquarters of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1815-1869,” which contains marriage certificates for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee and some for Alabama (one marriage license), Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia as well as monthly reports of marriages for Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. (National Archives and Records Administration publication number M1875)
  • “Records of the field offices for the state of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands” which includes marriage records from the counties of Augusta, Goochland, Louisa, Nelson and Rockbridge in Virginia. (Only the marriage records from this collection were added to the database.) (National Archives and Records Administration publication number M1913)

Coverage Tables - Cohabitation Records[edit | edit source]

How Do I Search This Collection?[edit | edit source]

The Freedmen’s Bureau records are a major source of genealogical information about post Civil War African Americans. Before searching this collection, it is helpful to know:

  • The name of your ancestor
  • The approximate age of your ancestor
  • The place where your ancestor lived
  • The name of the former slave owner
  • Locate your ancestor in the 1870 Census. Most local Bureau activities ended (except from claims and education) in December 1868.
  • Check the records of the local field office in the area(s) where you believe your ancestor lived between June 1865 and December 1868.
  • Determine, if possible, the name of the former owner. The 1860 Slave Schedule may be helpful. Also consider searching the 1860 and 1870 Agricultural Schedules.
  • The Bureau created many different types of records. Review the record types in the Collection Content section in this article.
  • While searching Bureau records remember to search other records of the local government, including marriage and court records and especially the 1867 or later voter registrations.
  • Consider ancestors who may have been employed as a civilian agent or served as local agent while still in the military. Look for statewide rosters of bureau personnel in the records of Assistant Commissioners and the Field Office Personnel Coverage Table for this state. Others may have worked with aid associations or taught school supported by aid associations in the north.
  • Freedmen would have determined what their name would be and may have changed it multiple times.

Search the Index[edit | edit source]

Search by name on the Collection Details Page.
  1. Fill in the search boxes in the Search Collection section with the information you know
  2. Click Search to show possible matches

View the Images[edit | edit source]

View images in this collection by visiting the Collection Browse Page:
  1. Select Marriage Place - State
  2. Select Surname
  3. Select Given Name to view the images

How Do I Analyze the Results?[edit | edit source]

Compare each result from your search with what you know to determine if there is a match. This may require viewing multiple records or images. Keep track of your research in a research log.

What Do I Do Next?[edit | edit source]

I Found the Person I Was Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • Add any new information to your records
  • Use the place of residence, age, and other information for each person to search for the individuals in census records
  • Use the information found on the marriage record to search church records
  • Use the information found on the marriage record to search land and probate records
  • Use the information found on the marriage record to search additional state and county records

I Can't Find the the Person I'm Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • There may be more than one person in the records with the same name
  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for nicknames and abbreviated names
  • Look for another index. Local genealogical and historical societies often have indexes to local records
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties
  • Try alternative search methods such as only filling in the surname search box (or the given name search box) on the landing page leaving the other box empty and then click on search. This should return a list of everyone with that particular name. You could then browse the list for individuals that may be your ancestor
  • Former slaves may have had used multiple names or changed their names until they decided upon one particular name. Search all possible names along with variations or spellings of their known names

Research Helps[edit | edit source]

The following articles will help you research your family in the United States.

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Citing This Collection[edit | edit source]

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Collection Citation:
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