United States Freedmen’s Branch Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)Edit This Page
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|This article describes a collection of historical records available at FamilySearch.org.|
Access the records: Virginia, Freedmen's Bureau Letters or Correspondence 1865-1872 .
This collection includes field office reports, letters received and sent, contracts, certificates, registers, censuses, affidavits, and other documents that preserve, directly and vividly, the experiences and circumstances of the individuals involved, such as freedpeople, Bureau officers, landowners and employers, and others. They contain desperate pleas for food, clothing, and medical care from rural communities; freedpeoples' testimonies about delinquent employers, continued use of forced labor and apprenticeship, violence, restrictions due to the new state-legislated and repressive "black codes"; petitions for new schools, legal aid in courts, and protection from violence; applications for land; and marriage certificates. The collection includes records from 1865 to 1872.
Marriage records from this NARA publication have been published in a separate collection: Freedmen's Bureau Virginia Marriages, ca. 1815-1866.
Citations for This Collection
- "Virginia, Freedmen's Bureau Letters or Correspondence, 1865-1872." Index and Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2013. Citing NARA microfilm publication M1913. College Park, Maryland: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
The following important information is often found in Bureau records:
- Name of the freedman
- Name of the freedman’s former owner
- Date of the record
- Bride and groom
- Marriage date and place
How to Use the Records
To begin your search it is helpful to know
- The name of your ancestor
- Identifying information such as name of spouse, age birthplace or residence
Search the Collection
To search the collection fill in the requested information in the boxes on the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about the individuals in the list to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person. You may need to look at the information on several individuals comparing the information about them to your ancestors to make this determination. 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 video at FamilySearch Search Tips.
Using the Information
When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. Download a copy of the record, or extract the genealogical information needed. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details. Add this new information to your records of each family. The information may also lead you to other records about your ancestors. The following examples show ways you can use the information:
- Use the estimated age to calculate a birth date.
- Use the names, ages, and residence to search the census records.
Tips to Keep in Mind
- Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and 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.
- Be aware that your ancestor may have used more than one name during their lifetime.
Unable to Find Your Ancestor?
- Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for 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 with the same family number.
Additional Information About These Records
The Freedmen’s Bureau records are a major source of genealogical information about post Civil War African Americans. They are also a good source to quickly identify a family group and residence. Use the place of residence, age, and other information for each person to search for the individuals in census records and other types of records.
The Freedmen’s Bank Records are the most commonly known records created by the Freedmen’s Bureau and have also been described separately.
The original records are preserved at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Copies of the original records are available at the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. and the regional archives located in Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington State. The records were microfilmed in 2001 the microfilms are available at the Family History Library.
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was established in the War Department in March of 1865. It was commonly called the Freedman’s Bureau and was responsible for the management and supervision of matters relating to refuges, freedmen, and abandoned lands. The Bureau assisted disenfranchised Americans, primarily African Americans, with temporal, legal and financial matters, with the intent of helping people to become self-sufficient. Matters handled included the distributing of food and clothing; operating temporary medical facilities; acquiring back pay, bounty payments, and pensions; facilitating the creation of schools, including the founding of Howard University; reuniting family members; handling marriages; and providing banking services. Banking services were provided by the establishment of the Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company, or Freedman’s Bank.
The Bureau functioned as an agency of the War Department from approximately June 1865 until December 1868. In 1872, the functions of the Bureau were transferred to the Freedmen’s Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office.
The Bureau assisted over one million African Americans, including many of the nearly four million emancipated slaves, which was over 25% of the population of former slaves in America.
The records identify those who sought help from the Bureau at the end of the Civil War. Most supplicants were freed slaves, some of which were military veterans. In addition, a few veterans who were not African Americans also sought help from the Bureau.
Freedmen’s Bureau records are usually reliable, because the records were supplied through first-person correspondence or the recording of a marriage.
Known Issues with This Collection
- National Archives Resources for Genealogists
- Publications of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project
- The Freedmen's Bureau Online. Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.
- Publications of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project
- Suffolk University
Related Wiki Articles
- Virginia African Americans
- African American Freedmen’s Bureau Records
- Quick Guide to African American Records
- African American Research
Contributions to This Article
Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections
Citations for individual image records are available for this collection. Browse through images in this collection and click on the "Show Citation" box: Freedmen's Bureau Letters or Correspondence, 1865-1872
When you copy information from a record, you should list where you found the information. This will help you or others to find the record again. It is also good to keep track of records where you did not find information, including the names of the people you looked for in the records.
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