Thursday, June 25, 2015

Great News: Freedmen's Bureau Records To Be Digitized and Made Available Online Free!

By now you've probably heard of the announcement from last Friday* that 1.5 million records from the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) will soon be available online free. It's estimated that these handwritten documents, which provide invaluable documentary sources of information for the four million newly freed people, ** will be completely digitized by late next year in time for the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.
[Illustration showing an African American soldier at his wedding in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Contributor Names: Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891, artist; Created / Published:1866.Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. ]

Tennessee, Lebanon, Wilson County, sent to Freedmen's Bureau Headquarters, 
Washington, DC, M1875, roll 4. National Archives]

But getting all these records online is only the beginning. Until they've been indexed it will be difficult and time-consuming to hunt for individuals.*** If you're looking for a worthwhile project to spend time on, you can help by going to this website and becoming one of the Project's volunteers.
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), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro­-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum
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.
I was one of the thousands of volunteers who helped get the 1940 U.S. Census indexed and online in an earlier joint project. It was expected to take a year, but we got it done in five months!****

I'm looking forward to getting involved in the Freedmen's Bureau Project too.

*Which appropriately was June 19th, the 150th Juneteenth.
**"The Freedmen’s Bureau made records that include marriages and church and financial details as well as full names, dates of birth and histories of slave ownership." (quote from The Guardian article referenced above.)
***To date only a very few records have been indexed.
****It was very interesting, getting a view into people's lives from over 70 years ago. And given some of the handwriting of the census takers, there was also an element of puzzle-solving.

© 2015 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.

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