Museum News

Historic Freedmen’s Bureau Records Released

Volunteer Indexing Effort of 4 Million Freed-Slave Records Launched on Juneteenth

June 19, 2015

On the 150th anniversary of “Juneteenth” (June 19), the oldest known celebration
commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of
African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and FamilySearch announced the digital release
of 4 million Freedmen’s Bureau historical records. In addition, a nationwide effort seeking volunteers
to transcribe the handwritten entries has begun.
A collaboration with FamilySearch, the largest genealogy organization in the world, the Afro-
American Historical and Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum, the
Freedmen’s Bureau Project makes the records of freed slaves available and accessible by taking the
raw records, extracting the information and indexing them to make them searchable online. Once
indexed, it will be possible to find an ancestor by going to the site, entering a name and discovering a
family member.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized near the end of the American Civil War to assist newly
freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia. From 1865 to 1872, the Bureau opened schools,
managed hospitals, rationed food and clothing and even solemnized marriages. In the process, it
gathered priceless handwritten personal information, including marriage and family information,
military service, banking, school, hospital and property records on potentially 4 million African
Americans. The records are the property of the National Archives and Records Administration, where
they have been carefully preserved and protected for decades.
“These records are a treasure trove of information, but previously, one had to travel to the 
National Archives to access the records in their original form,” said Hollis Gentry, genealogy
specialist at NMAAHC. “Our museum is so excited to participate in this project because it allows us to
share these valuable records with a much wider audience.”
Throughout the year, volunteers with the collaborating organizations and interested individuals
from the general public will search and index these priceless records, making the information, details
and histories readily discoverable for free, online genealogical searches.
The goal is to have the records fully indexed in time for the opening of the National Museum
of African American History and Culture in fall 2016. It only takes a little training for anyone with a
computer and Internet access to join the project. Technical assistance will be available at
FamilySearch centers nationwide.
For more information about the effort or to volunteer, visit GetInvolved/FreedmensBureau and
www.DiscoverFreedmen.org. Join the conversation on social media with #DiscoverFreedmen.

About the Museum
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an Act of
Congress through legislation signed into law in 2003 by President George W. Bush. Scheduled to open
in fall 2016, the museum is under construction on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a fiveacre
tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. Upon completion, NMAAHC will become the
nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural institution devoted exclusively to exploring and
documenting the African American story and its impact on American history. For more information,
visit the museum’s website at nmaahc.si.edu.
 

About FamilySearch
FamilySearch is the largest genealogical organization in the world providing billions of
ancestral records. FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. FamilySearch’s commitment to helping people connect with their ancestors is
rooted in the belief that families are meant to be central to people’s lives. Learn more at
www.FamilySearch.org.
Images are available at www.discoverfreedmen.org/media.

Media Contact(s): 

Fleur Paysour (202) 633-4761; paysourf@si.edu 
Lindsey Koren (202) 633-4052; korenl@si.edu 

application/pdf Press Release (25.07 KB)

Join Our Media List

Help us keep you informed of Museum news, special events, and upcoming public programs. 

 


Sign Up

Press Kit

Our press kit includes facts and descriptions of our building, inaugural exhibitions, collection, history, and leadership.

 

Download Kit

About The Museum

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.