United States Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages (FamilySearch Historical Records)Edit This Page

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Record Description

The records consist of bound volumes and unbound bundles of loose papers. They are indexed and are also brows-able by state.

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, generally known as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established March 3, 1865, in the War Department. The Bureau was responsible for the supervision and management of all matters relating to the refugees, freedmen, lands and property abandoned or seized in the former Confederate States, border states, District of Columbia, and Indian Territory. The aim of the Bureau was to help freedmen become self-sufficient. Bureau officials accomplished this by issuing rations, overseeing labor contracts, establishing schools and hospitals, and representing former slaves in legal and other disputes. They also helped freedmen in legalizing marriages entered into during slavery, and provided transportation to refugees and freedmen who were attempting to reunite with their family or relocate to other parts of the country. Letters sent and received by bureau officials often contain information from and about African Americans. The Bureau was abolished in 1872, but the bulk of its work was conducted from June 1865 to December 1868. About 4 million slaves were freed during the Civil War. The names of thousands of these former slaves are included in the records.

The records were created from 1861 through 1872, however some of the marriages took place as early as 1815.

The Freedman's Bureau was created to supervise labor contracts, settle disputes, administer justice, issue rations and clothing to destitute freedmen and refugees, establish schools, lease land, operate hospitals and refugee camps, legalize marriages and provide transportation to refugees and freedmen returning to their homes or relocating to other parts of the country for employment or other reasons.

Names and residences found in Freedman's Bureau records are usually reliable, though ages and birth dates may not be. For some counties the date given is the original marriage date, while for other counties the date is the legalized marriage date. Some entries give the names of children born to the couple.

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869.

Coverage Tables

Coverage tables of Cohabitation Records.

Record Content

This database combines two record groups created by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, as shown below:
  • “Marriage Records of the Office of the Commissioner, Washington Headquarters of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1815-1869,” which contains marriage certificates for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee and some for Alabama (one marriage license), Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia as well as monthly reports of marriages for Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. (National Archives and Records Administration publication number M1875)
  • “Records of the field offices for the state of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands” which includes marriage records from the counties of Augusta, Goochland, Louisa, Nelson and Rockbridge in Virginia. (Only the marriage records from this collection were added to the database.) (National Archives and Records Administration publication number M1913)

Each marriage record contains some or all of the following information:

  • Date marriage was registered
  • Name and residence of groom
  • Groom's age and color
  • Color of groom's parents
  • How many years lived with another woman
  • Cause of the separation
  • Number of children by former companion
  • Name and residence of bride
  • Bride's age and color
  • Color of bride's parents
  • How many years lived with another man
  • Cause of the separation
  • Number of children by former companion
  • Number of children with present companion
  • Name of officiating minister
  • Sometimes, names and ages of children

How to Use the Records

To begin your search, it is helpful to know the name and some other identifying information such as the birth place or birth date.

Search the Collection

To search the collection by name fill in your ancestor’s name in the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about those in the list to what you already know about your own ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person.

If you did not find the person you were looking for, you may need to search the collection by image.
⇒Select the "Browse" link in the initial search page
⇒Select the "Marriage Place - State"
⇒Select the "Surname"
⇒Select the "Given Name" which takes you to the images

Look at each image comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine if the image relates to them. You may need to look at several images and compare the information about the individuals listed in those images to your ancestors to make this determination.

With either search keep in mind:

  • There may be more than one person in the records with the same name.
  • You may not be sure of your own ancestor’s name.
  • Your ancestor may have used different names or variations of their name throughout their life.

For tips about searching on-line collections see the on-line article FamilySearch Search Tips and Tricks.

Using the Information

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. Save a copy of the image or transcribe the information. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details such as a title, an occupation, or land ownership. Add this new information to your records of each family. You should also look for leads to other records about your ancestors.

Use Freedmen's Bureau records to learn your ancestor's marriage year, and possibly birth year and place. The records often provide names and ages of family members, and may contain information not found in any other available source.

Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Continue to search the index and records to identify other relatives.
  • When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
  • You may need to compare the information of more than one family or person to make this determination.
  • Even though these indexes are very accurate they may still contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings, misinterpretations, and optical character recognition errors if the information was scanned.

Unable to Find Your Ancestor?

  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for alias names, nicknames and abbreviated names.
  • Try alternative search methods such as only filling in the surname search box (or the given name search box) on the landing page leaving the other box empty and then click on search. This should return a list of everyone with that particular name. You could then browse the list for individuals that may be your ancestor.

Related Websites

Related Wiki Articles

How You Can Contribute

We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Records.

Please follow these guidelines as you make changes. Thank you for any contributions you may provide.

Citations for This Collection

Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.  

Collection Citation:

"United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869." Database with Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2015. Citing Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

The citation for a record is available with each record in this collection, at the bottom of the record screen. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869.
Image Citation:
The citation for an image is available on each image in this collection by clicking Show Citation at the bottom left of the image screen. You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Freedmen's Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869.


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  • This page was last modified on 5 November 2015, at 22:07.
  • This page has been accessed 11,275 times.