Aug 26, 2021 - News makes Freedmen’s Bureau records available digitally for first time

Screenshot via opened the world’s largest digitized and searchable collection of Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank records to the public this week.

Why it matters: Free access to these records kept during Reconstruction can help African Americans find missing family links prior to 1870.

The big picture: The Freedmen’s Bureau was established in the South in 1865, as the Civil War wound down, to help formerly enslaved people transition to free citizenship by helping them settle public or abandoned lands, providing access to courts, education and medical care.

  • Among the 3.5 million records now available are labor contracts, rations, apprenticeships and marriage certificates.

Yes, but: "Out of all the states, Florida has the least number of records," professional genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith told Axios. "It’s all on 15 rolls of microfilm. Louisiana has, like, 160 rolls."

  • Florida had just a handful of Freedmen’s Bureau field offices — the closest to Tampa Bay was at Ocala, and the only office south was at Key West.
  • At least part of the reason: Florida was still frontier and had so few citizens — 187,748 in 1870, making it one of the least populated states, with fewer people than even tiny Rhode Island.

Explore the records here.


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