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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Research: African American Ancestors by Michael Hait, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Freedman’s Bank Records
The U.S. Congress chartered the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company after the Civil War, to provide financial services to the African American community. Most of its depositors were former slaves, though some free-born African Americans as well as other races also held accounts with the bank. The “Freedman’s Bank” also aided in the construction of schools and hospitals for freedmen.
Unfortunately, poor investments and a general economic recession caused the Bank to officially cease operations in 1874—despite the desperate efforts of its final president, famed former slave Frederick Douglass. When the Bank closed, the federal government provided money to reimburse individuals, though many were unaware of this allowance and never attempted to recover their money.
The account records of the Freedman’s Bank can provide a remarkable amount of genealogical data, including the names of a former slave’s master, parents, siblings, or children; age; place of birth; etc. The National Archives and Records Administration has microfilmed three series of Bank records, including registers of depositors (M816) FHL Film, indexes to deposit ledgers (M817) FHL Film, and the journal of the Board of Trustees (M874) FHL Film. Even more valuable are some of the unmicrofilmed records, including letters sent and received by the Commissioners of the Bank and the Comptroller of the Currency between 1870-1914, containing correspondence with individual depositors concerning their accounts after the bank closed. Dividend payment records from 1882-1889 contain details about the repayment of accounts. The microfilmed records are available at the Archives in Washington, D.C. and Archives II in College Park, Maryland. The unmicrofilmed records are available only at the Archives II branch in College Park.
Digital images of the registers of depositors of Freedman’s Bank (National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication M816) FHL Film are also available on FamilySearch and by paid subscription on Ancestry.com.
The examples on the following page show how some of the Bank records can help to identify the owner of your former slave ancestors.
Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company - Vincent Marshall
Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, Register of Signatures of Depositors, Washington, D.C., account no. 230, Vincent Marshall, 16 January 1866; digital images, Ancestry.com; image from microfilm publication M816 FHL Film (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1970), roll 4.
Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company - James Pollard
Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, Register of Signatures of Depositors, Washington, D.C.,, account no. 252, James Pollard, 24 January 1866; digital images; Ancestry.com; image from microfilm publication M816 FHL Film (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1970), roll 4.
Though these two examples clearly state the name of the depositors’ former masters not all of these records contain the same information. It is not uncommon to find the “Name of Master” and “Name of Mistress” incomplete on these forms. Some of the depositor forms do not name the former masters at all, but may name parents and siblings—a great way to recreate family groups.
Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company - John Green
Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, Register of Signatures of Depositors, Mississippi, account no. 6873, John Green, 16 April 1872; digital images, Ancestry.com; image from microfilm publication M816 FHL Film (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1970), roll 15.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: African American Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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