On June 19, at a special press conference, FamilySearch International announced the digital release of 4 million Freedmen’s Bureau historical records and launched the Freedmen Bureau Project, a nationwide volunteer indexing effort.
The press conference, held at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, was simulcast to 31 other locations, including two in Arizona, one in Tucson, the other at the Chandler City Hall.
The day itself was historic, as it was the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, or what is known as Emancipation Day, when nearly 4 million slaves were freed.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Project, called it a “memorable day for African American family history research,” as well, saying the Freedmen’s Bureau Project could “help reunite black families once torn apart by slavery.”
The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized near the end of the Civil War to assist newly freed slaves by opening schools and hospitals, rationing food and even conducting marriages. Beginning in1865 until 1872, the organization recorded and kept handwritten notes, marriage and family information and records of military service as well as banking, school, hospital and property records.
“Many of the records are very personal; some are difficult accounts to read,” said Elder Christofferson. At the same time, “You also see triumph, hope and resilience,” revealed in these records.
Millions of these records have now been digitized and can be viewed at www.discoverfreedmen.org. However, Elder Christofferson explained, “The records have not been indexed,” meaning the data have not been extracted and indexed so it can be easily searched online.
FamilySearch, working in collaboration with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum, has mounted a nationwide effort to get this indexing done.
“The indexing of these records will allow many African Americans to create a link to their Civil War-era ancestors for the first time,” said Thom Reed of FamilySearch. This effort “will allow us to connect our families past and present.”
Volunteers from the partner organizations or any other interested individuals can participate. “The goal,” states a media release about the project, “is to have the records fully indexed in time for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in late 2016.”
Minimal training is necessary, and no specific time commitment is required. Volunteers simply log on to DiscoverFreedmen.org, follow the on-screen prompts that tell how to pull up the scanned documents and enter the names and dates into the fields provided. Free assistance also is available at any of the 1,864 FamilySearch centers in the world.
To view the entire press conference or to learn about indexing, visit www.discoverfreedmen.org.