United States Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages (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: Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869 .

Record Description

The records consist of bound volumes and unbound bundles of loose papers. They are indexed and are also browsable by state.

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, generally known as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established March 3, 1865, in the War Department. The Bureau was responsible for the supervision and management of all matters relating to the refugees, freedmen, lands and property abandoned or seized in the former Confederate States, border states, District of Columbia, and Indian Territory. The aim of the Bureau was to help freedmen become self-sufficient. Bureau officials accomplished this by issuing rations, overseeing labor contracts, establishing schools and hospitals, and representing former slaves in legal and other disputes. They also helped freedmen in legalizing marriages entered into during slavery, and provided transportation to refugees and freedmen who were attempting to reunite with their family or relocate to other parts of the country. Letters sent and received by bureau officials often contain information from and about African Americans. The Bureau was abolished in 1872, but the bulk of its work was conducted from June 1865 to December 1868. About 4 million slaves were freed during the Civil War. The names of thousands of these former slaves are included in the records. 

The records were created from 1861 through 1872, however some of the marriages took place as early as 1815. 

The Freedmen's Bureau was created to supervise labor contracts, settle disputes, administer justice, issue rations and clothing to destitute freedmen and refugees, establish schools, lease land, operate hospitals and refugee camps, legalize marriages and provide transportation to refugees and freedmen returning to their homes or relocating to other parts of the country for employment or other reasons.

Names and residences found in Freedmen's Bureau records are usually reliable, though ages and birthdates may not be. For some counties the date given is the original marriage date, while for other counties the date is the legalized marriage date. Some entries give the names of children born to the couple.

For a list of records by localities currently published in this collection, select the Browse.

Citations for This Collection

The following citation refers to the original source of the information published in FamilySearch.org Historical Record collections. Sources include the author, custodian, publisher and archive for the original records.

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Marriage Records of the Office of the Commissioner, Washington Headquarters of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. National Archives and Records Administration.

Suggested citation format for a record in this collection.

Record Content

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, 1861-1869,” 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)

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

  • Name of bride and groom
  • Date marriage was registered
  • Residence of couple
  • Information about previous marriages
  • Names and ages (or birthdates) of children

How to Use the Records

Search the Collection
To search the collection you will need to follow this series of links:
⇒Select the "Browse" link in the initial search page
⇒Select the "Marriage Place - State" category which takes you to the images

Look at the images one by one comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine which one is your ancestor. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to make this determination. or Fill in the requested information in the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about the ancestors in the list to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to find your ancestor.

Use Freedmen's Bureau records to learn your ancestor's marriage year, and possibly birth year and place. The records often provide names and ages of family members, and may contain information not found in any other available source.

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Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections

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A suggested format for keeping track of records that you have searched is found in the wiki article Help:How to Cite FamilySearch Collections.

Citation Example for a Record Found in This Collection

"Freedman's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869." database and digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed March 9, 2011), Docter Flemoy and Dolly Adams, married 7 June 1866; citing Marriage Records, FHL microfilm 2.425.252; United States Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.