Thom Reed, a FamilySearch employee, was recently featured in Time Magazine, where he shared some of his own story about the challenges of finding records about ancestors who were slaves. He, along with many others who are in the African American community, are also turning their efforts to the Freedman Bureau community indexing project, which is opening a valuable new set of indexed records that will help people who are looking for their African American ancestors.
Recently, Thom just happened to be using a FamilySearch test feature called the logged-in user page, when he located what he called #FamilyHistoryFind!!! He recalled, “I was selected to participate in a test of how my home page looks when someone logs in.” After logging in, Thom found some new information about Tom Baines. Thom said, “I followed the steps (for the first time it was ever available to users), and it led me to the 1930 census, with my grandmother Theora was listed as the oldest child!!!! I had never found this record before! It’s because it was indexed as “Barnes” not Baines. But it’s MY family! I was nearly in tears! FamilySearch found my grandma for me. I wish I could use emoticons here because I would share some tears. Indexing and new FamilySearch search algorithms that suggested a possible match made all this possible!”
Finding African American families can be difficult even in recent census records. Families often moved between census years and lived with extended family units. Name changes sometimes occurred more than once in the years following emancipation. The Freedman Bureau project will help families connect in these difficult research years leading up to and after the emancipation of the slaves in the United States. As Thom experienced, records are coming to light as indexes and new FamilySearch.org features make the task of finding people easier to do. Similar stories are heard from users worldwide as they use FamilySearch and partner tools to find their ancestors.