United States, Freedman's Bank Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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FamilySearch Record Search This article describes a collection of historical records available at FamilySearch.org.
Access the records: Freedman Bank Records 1865-1874 .

Freedman's Bank Register.jpg

Collection Time Period 

The registers cover approximately the years 1865 to 1874.

Record History

The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company was established and incorporated by an act of Congress on March 3, 1865, as a banking institution in Washington, D.C., primarily for the benefit of freed slaves and former African American military personnel. It was commonly called the Freedman’s Bank; however, it was not under the supervision of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen’s Bureau).

The Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company contain the records of 29 branches of the Freedmen’s Bank. The branches were located in the following cities:

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Beaufort, South Carolina
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Columbus, Mississippi
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Lynchburg, Virginia
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Mobile, Alabama
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Natchez, Mississippi
  • New Bern, North Carolina
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • New York, New York
  • Norfolk, Virginia
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Richmond, Virginia
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Shreveport, Louisiana
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Tallahassee, Florida
  • Vicksburg, Mississippi
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wilmington, North Carolina

In 1874, overwhelmed by the effects of the Panic of 1873, mismanagement, abuse, and fraud, the Freedman’s Bank closed. Congress appointed a three-member board and later the Comptroller of the Currency to oversee the affairs of the bank. The Comptroller was made commissioner ex officio, and he submitted annual reports to Congress. The Freedman’s Bank final report was made in 1920. Contrary to what many of its depositors were led to believe, the bank’s assets were not protected by the federal government. While half of the depositors eventually received about three-fifths of the value of their accounts, others received nothing. Well into the 20th century, some depositors and their heirs were still seeking reimbursement for the remaining portions of their accounts. Depositors included about 67,000 African Americans, or about two percent of the former slave population. In addition, thousands of non–African Americans made deposits at the bank. These people were primarily immigrants who were born in the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Continental Europe. Depositors listed the names of close relatives. All together, the records lists about 480,000 names. 

Why This Record Was Created

The registers identify those who opened accounts. Because the Freedman’s Bank was required by law to protect the interests of depositors’ heirs, the branches collected an enormous amount of personal information about each depositor and his or her family when the account was opened. 

Record Reliability

Registers of depositors are usually reliable because the information came from the depositor himself or from a close family member (in the case of children). Some errors may have been made in recording the information

Record Description

Each register book consists of preprinted forms, with information for four depositors on each page. The registers are arranged chronologically by the date the account was established and then numerically by account number. Many numbers are missing, a few are out of order, and some blocks of numbers were never used. Many registers seem to be missing. 

Record Content

The registers contain the following genealogical information:

  • Account number
  • Name of depositor
  • Date of application
  • Birthplace
  • Place brought up
  • Residence
  • Age
  • Complexion
  • Occupation
  • Name of employer
  • Spouse’s name
  • Children’s names
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s name
  • Brothers’ and sisters’ names

Additional information included only in the early books was:

  • Name of former master or mistress
  • Name of plantation
  • Regiment and company served in during the Civil War

Sometimes the following information is also included:

  • Wife’s maiden name or the name of a former spouse
  • Names of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and in-laws
  • Residence of these individuals and whether they were living or dead
  • Death certificate copies    

In addition to individuals, African American churches, private businesses, and beneficial societies also maintained accounts. Such accounts usually list the names of leaders, owners, or officials of those institutions.

How To Use The Record

Freedman’s Bank registers are a good source to quickly identify a family group and residence. Use a person’s birthplace, age, and place of residence to search for census and other record types. The bank records probably identify persons for whom other records do not exist.

Related Websites

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Related Wiki Article

African American Freedmen's Bureau Records

Sources of This Collection

"Freedman's Bank Records, 1865-1874," database, FamilySearch, from Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. Registers of signatures of depositors in branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865–1874.

Citations for an image or index published in FamilySearch Collections

Examples of citing these records are:

  • Freedman's Savings and Trust Company (Washington, D.C.). Bank record. From FamilySearch Internet (www.familysearch.org), April 23, 2010. William Murphy, age 11, born in Green Co. Alabama, application date 26 July 1867, Mobile, Alabama.
  • Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (Washington, D.C.). Registers of signatures of depositors in branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865–1874. From FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org), September 29, 2006. North Carolina, New Bern, February 21, 1871, Simon Groom, account 1851.
  • Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (Washington, D.C.). Registers of signatures of depositors in branches of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865–1874. Washington, D.C.: The National Archives, 1969. Microform/item number, state, branch (city), account number.

 Instructions for citing this source can be found at: How to Cite FamilySearch Collections