African American Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Records
Explains what the Freedman's Savings and Trust records are, their value to family historians, lists branch locations, explains their content and how to use them, how to access the records, and lists related Internet sites.
Definition. The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company (often called the Freedman's Bank) was created to assist newly freed slaves and African American soldiers at the end of the Civil War. The bank failed in 1874 and many depositors lost their savings, but the records of the bank remain. Among the records are the registers of signatures of depositors. The registers from 29 branches from 1864 to 1871 show the names, residence, and description of each depositor. They may also include the genealogy and relatives of the depositor. Most depositors were African Americans. A few were European immigrants mostly in New York City.
Value. The registers of signatures of depositors have several indexes which are easy to use, and include about 480,000 personal names (61,131 depositors and their relatives). They cover a time period when many African Americans were newly freed and may be a source that bridges between their lives in slavery and freedom. The records sometimes show a variety of family history information such as birth date, birthplace, where raised, former owner, employer, occupation, residence, and relatives. Other unmicrofilmed and less well indexed records such as correspondence after the bank failure may also be available at the National Archives to shed further light on depositors.
Jurisdictions. The registers cover the years from 1864 to 1871 in 29 out of 37 branches, but you can search the computerized indexes without knowing a depositor's residence.
Branch Register Start Date
Huntsville, Ala. December 1865
Mobile, Ala. January 1866
Montgomery, Ala. no registers
Little Rock, Ark. June 1870
District of Columbia
Washington, D.C. August 1865
Jacksonville, Fla. no registers
Tallahassee, Fla. August 1866
Atlanta, Ga. January 1870
Augusta, Ga. March 1866
Macon, Ga. no registers
Savannah, Ga. January 1866
Lexington, Ky. November 1870
Louisville, Ky. October 1870
New Orleans, La. January 1866
Shreveport, La. June 1868
Baltimore, Md. March 1866
Columbus, Miss. August l870
Natchez, Miss. October 1865
Vicksburg, Miss. December 1865
St. Louis, Mo. November 1870
New York, N.Y. July 1866
New Bern, N.C. January 1866
Raleigh, N.C. January 1868
Wilmington, N.C. October 1868
Philadelphia, Pa. January 1870
Beaufort, S.C. October 1866
Charleston, S.C. January 1866
Columbia, Tenn. no registers
Memphis, Tenn. December 1865
Nashville, Tenn. March 1870
Lynchburg, Va. September 1865
Norfolk, Va. June 1865
Richmond, Va. October 1865
Content of the records include the account number, name of depositor, date of entry, and may include the place born, place brought up, residence, age, complexion, name of employer or occupation, wife or husband, children, father, mother, brothers and sisters, remarks, and signature. The early books sometimes also contain the name of the former master or mistress and the name of the plantation. In many entries not all the requested data are given. Copies of death certificates have been pinned to some of the entries. In each case the certificate has been filmed immediately after the page that shows the registration of the person's signature.
The registers are arranged alphabetically by name of state. The entries are arranged alphabetically by name of city where the bank was located, thereunder chronologically by date when the account was established, and thereunder numerically by account number. Many numbers are missing, a few are out of numerical order, and in some cases blocks of numbers were not used. Many registers seem to be missing.
How to Use the Records
Find the name in an index. Use either the Heritage Quest Online index and images, Ancestry.com index and images, or compact disc index. If you do not find the person you seek at first, try all three indexes. It is usually best to enter a very simple search phrase such as a name only (no date, places, or other limiting factors). If there are too many matches, add an additional piece of data and then repeat the search. Add additional data piece-by-piece and then repeat the search until you have a reasonable list of matches.
If the first few searches fail to produce matches, try searching for the name by surname only, given name only, or with a variant spelling. Variant spelling may include the use of initials and abbreviations for given names, or try substituting different vowels in the surname. Also, look for the names of relatives and kin in the indexes, hoping their records will mention your ancestor. Keep in mind that after the Civil War, newly freed African American families sometimes changed their surnames several times.
View the record. Depending on where you view the Heritage Quest Online, or Ancestry. com indexes, you may also be able to view images of the original registers for details about ancestors. If not, obtain and view a microfilm copy of the registers. Make a photocopy of original and transfer all of the genealogical data to your family history notekeeping system. It may also be worth considering a trip to the National Archives to view the unmicrofilmed portion of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company records.
If the ancestor or his relatives are not in Freedman's Bank record indexes, other sources for African Americans in this time period include:
- Freedmen's Bureau Records
- 1870 Federal Census and indexes
- Civil War Soldiers and Sailors (U.S. Colored Troops)
- Southern Claims Commission records
Originals at the National Archives. The original Freedman's Bank records include many additional, unmicrofilmed papers beyond the registers of signatures of depositors, including some partial indexes on paper. The Freedman's Bank records at the National Archives are a part of Record Group 101, Records of the Comptroller of the Currency. The microfilm collection of the Freedman's Bank records are available in the National Archives buildings in Washington, D.C., and College Park, Maryland as Micropublication M0816, 27 rolls. The unfilmed records are available only at College Park. Send written inquires regarding these records to the Textual Reference Branch, National Archives at College Park, MD 20740-6001.
Online Indexes and Images.
Heritage Quest Online has an online index to the registers of signatures of depositors. Images of the registers are linked to the index. This online index is available for free at Family History Centers, the Family History Library, and through many other libraries. There is a subscription fee for home use.
Ancestry.com also has a similar online index and images. Family History Centers and the Family History Library have only limited access. There is a subscription fee for home use.
Compact Disc. A compact disc index to the registers of signatures of depositors features pedigree-linked names in GEDCOM format (for easy downloading to most genealogy notekeeping systems). It does not display images of the registers. The compact disc index is available for free at the Family History Library and most Family History Centers. It can also be purchased for home use.
Microfilms at the Family History Library. Copies of the National Archives microfilms of the registers of signatures of depositors are also available at the Family History Library, and Family History Centers.
Related Web Sites
Reginald Washington, "The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical Research" article, National Archives, Prologue Magazine Summer 1997, Vol. 29, No., 2.
"About Freedman's Bank," Heritage Quest Online. Describes the bank records.
"U.S. Freedmen Bank Records, 1865-1874," Generations Network, on Ancestry.com. Describes the bank records.
"Freedman's Bureau Records," on RootsWeb.com. This site mistakenly mixes Freedmen's Bureau records with Freedman's Bank records which were never part of the same government agency. Nevertheless, it indexes Tallahassee, and Jacksonville, Florida bank depositor registers.