Today, Ancestry® spotlights an important, yet often overlooked, part of American history by unveiling the world’s largest digitized and searchable collection of Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank records.
This addition of more than 3.5 million records can help descendants of previously enslaved people in the U.S. learn more about their families. The collection can enable meaningful breakthroughs for Black family history because it is likely the first time newly freed African Americans would appear in records after Emancipation in 1863, as most enslaved people were previously excluded from Census and federal documents. The comprehensive collection is now available for everyone to search for free at www.Ancestry.com/Freedmens.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was created near the end of the American Civil War to help formerly enslaved people transition from slavery to citizenship by providing food, housing, education and medical care. It supported more than 4 million people, which also included some impoverished white people and veterans displaced by the Civil War. Bureau records include labor contracts, rations, apprenticeships, letters, marriages and more. Freedman’s Bank records, which are also part of the digitized collection, include family members’ names, thousands of signature cards, and details about the individual depositors.
Despite its significance, awareness of the Freedmen’s Bureau is very low. According to a Harris Poll survey by Ancestry, a staggering 72% of Americans surveyed have never heard of the Freedmen’s Bureau. However, nearly all of those familiar with the Freedmen’s Bureau (90%) believe it was a turning point in American history and that it still impacts Americans’ lives today, and 87% of Americans surveyed agree that it is important for the public to have access to historical records–like those saved by the Freedmen’s Bureau–in order for Black Americans to be able to trace their family roots.
To fully understand the Black American experience during this chapter in history, Ancestry turned to experts, academics and authors like Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, Assistant Professor, Africana Studies at Morehouse College, who focuses on the history of the Reconstruction Era.
“Freedmen’s Bureau records paint a picture of who was migrating to major cities, what type of people they were, and their economic aspirations,” said Dr. Sims-Alvarado. “This narrative is largely untold in Reconstruction Era history, as those writing the history did not consider the perspectives of how Black people experienced and defined freedom. Increasing awareness of and access to this history is a key step toward a new understanding of this complex American history.”
Ancestry plays a unique role in helping people find their personal connection to the past and untold stories of those who shaped our nation’s history.
“Free access to this collection will enable countless Black family history discoveries for generations to come,” says Nicka Sewell-Smith, Professional Genealogist. “Finding your ancestors’ names and stories on Ancestry is possible and unearthing them can shine a light that helps guide us going forward. Learning about the resiliency of those who came before us and the obstacles they overcame inspires us to know we can do the same.”
Starting today, www.Ancestry.com/Freedmens offers everyone the opportunity to search for personal connections to this collection entirely for free–simply create a free account to view the records.
*The Harris Poll on behalf of Ancestry, July 2021
Ancestry®, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, empowers journeys of personal discovery to enrich lives. With our unparalleled collection of more than 30 billion records and over 20 million people in our growing DNA network, customers can discover their family story and gain a new level of understanding about their lives. For over 30 years, we’ve built trusted relationships with millions of people who have chosen us as the platform for discovering, preserving and sharing the most important information about themselves and their families.
The Harris Poll Survey Methodology
The research was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ancestry.com among 1,500 adults aged 18+. The survey was conducted June 29 – July 13, 2021. Data are weighted where necessary by age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, marital status, household size, and household income to bring them in line with their actual proportions in the population. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.