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Freedmen’s Bureau Project

Office of the Freedmen's Bureau, Memphis, Tennessee. (1866) From Harper's Weekly

Interested in family history or genealogy? Want to help build a body of knowledge about African American family history? Would you like to contribute to the new museum in a significant way?

To help bring thousands of records to light, the Freedmen’s Bureau Project was created as a set of partnerships between FamilySearch International and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Tens of thousands of volunteers are needed to make these records searchable online. No specific time commitment is required, and anyone may participate. Volunteers simply log on, pull up as many scanned documents as they like, and enter the names and dates into the fields provided. Once published, information for millions of African Americans will be accessible, allowing families to build their family trees and connect with their ancestors.

Get Started!

About the collaboration

  • The NMAAHC, FamilySearch, and the National Archives and Records Administration are working together to make digital records of the Freedmen’s Bureau available to the public.

    FamilySearch collects genealogical data from many organizations and individuals, including original records and indexes from various governmental and private records custodians. FamilySearch has created and is continuing to update computer readable and searchable digital images, records, indexes, and copies of the documents and materials taken, extracted, or indexed from the Freedmen’s Bureau records. The records that you transcribe will be available through the websites of the museum, the National Archives and Family Search.

    The National Archives and Records Administration
    The National Archives and Records Administration is the federal agency responsible to preserving the important records of our nation, including original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation. The Archives currently houses the original federal Freedmen’s Bureau records and is making them available to FamilySearch to digitize.

    The National Museum of African American History and Culture
    The NMMAHC is committed to making these materials available to wider audiences and allowing visitors to access these files through our website.

What are the Freedmen’s Bureau records?

  • The Freedmen’s Bureau was created by the Federal Government after the Civil War to provide assistance to freed slaves and impoverished whites in the Southern States. The rich documentary records left behind by the Freedmen’s Bureau allow researchers to document the African American experience in the post-Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Historians and museum professionals depend on these materials to explore government and military policies, local conditions, and interactions between freed people, local white populations and Bureau officials.

    The Freedmen’s Bureau records include

    • Headquarter Records
    • Field Office Records
    • Marriage Records
    • Letters
    • Certificates
    • Affidavits
    • Condition reports
    • Special orders
    • Telegrams
    • School Reports
    • Pension records

How will I be contributing to this project?

  • Indexing is the process of entering information from historical records into an online, searchable database. You will be indexing names and other information from the handwritten records of the Freedmen’s Bureau. This database will eventually be made available for free to the public on the NMAAHC’s website, as well the FamilySearch and National Archives and Records Administration’s websites.

    At the moment, no indexes of the names of freed slaves are available for researchers to navigate the vast array of available documents. Your help indexing these materials is invaluable to scholars and genealogists.

The Project

  • You will be indexing the names and other information from the handwritten records of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

    To undertake this project you must create a FamilySearch account and download their indexing program to your computer. The indexing software allows you to read the digital records and transcribe the information you see. The NMAAHC and FamilySearch will make information indexed from the records available through an online search engine.

    This project has no specific time commitment or minimum requirement on the number of records to transcribe.

Getting Started

  • Participation in this project will take place through the FamilySearch website. For instructions or technical assistance please contact FamilySearch directly. You can find assistance on the FamilySearch website: or

    First Time Users – Creating an Account
    1. 1. Go to the Family Search website.
    2. 2. Click on Indexing.
    3. 3. Select Test Drive. The Test Drive allows you to preview the FamilySearch transcription software and familiarize yourself with the transcription process.
    4. 4. Once you are familiar with the software and have decided that you would like to participate in the project, click Get Started.
    5. 5. You will be prompted to download the indexing program to your computer. It only takes a minute or two.
    6. 6. Once the download is completed, you will be prompted to Register For a New Account.
    7. 7. Complete the registration form and click Submit to create your account. FamilySearch will automatically send you an activation email. Once you active your account you can begin transcribing records.
    Transcribing Freedmen’s Bureau Records
    1. 1. Open the FamilySearch icon on your desktop
    2. 2. Enter your username and password
    3. 3. The first time you log into the program, you will be prompted to watch a series of introductory videos. These videos will provide you with more information on how to transcribe records. After you complete the video you will be redirected to the main transcription site.
    4. 4. At the top of the screen select Download Batch
    5. 5. Select Show All Projects to view all available projects
    6. 6. Scroll through the list to locate Freedman’s Bureau records. The entry will read “US—Freedmen’s Bureau", and then give the name of the specific records and state
    7. 7. Select Ok to download the batch and begin transcribing
    If you need assistance of any type, FamilySearch will provide it: or

    For the really dedicated, become a Group Administrator or form an indexing group

    A Group Administrator is a person who directs a group of indexers and is usually associated with a genealogical or historical society. The group administrator recruits, trains, and motivates indexers and arbitrators in their group. If you wish to form an indexing group and act as a group administrator, download and sign into the indexing program. Then, send an email to with your name and FamilySearch user name and a name for your group.

    You can find training and resources for group administrators on the FamilySearch website under “Help Resources.” For more information, see:

Let us know you are volunteering on the Freedmen’s Bureau Project

  • We want to know if you are helping create this genealogical research tool, so click here to let us know that you’re helping index the Freedmen’s Bureau records.