African American Freedmen's Bureau Records
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (often called the Freedmen’s Bureau) was created in 1865 at the end of the American Civil War to supervise relief efforts; aid involved: education (4,300 schools were established), Health Care (100 hospitals were established), issued food and clothing,operated refugee camps, helped legalize marriages, employment, supervised labor contracts, worked with African American soldiers and sailors and their heirs to secure back pay , bounty payments and pensions. for newly freed African Americans (four million), and to supervise confiscated Southern properties.
Because the Bureau's records 1865-1872 contain a wide range of data about the African American experience during slavery and freedom, they are a valuable source for the black family historian. Among the records are registers that give the names, ages, and former occupations of freedmen and names and residences of former owners. In addition, there are marriage registers that provide the names, addresses, ages, and complexions of husbands and wives and their children. For some states there are census lists, details of labor and apprenticeship agreements, back pay records, complaint registers, personal data about black soldiers (including company and regiment), school records, hospital registers, census records, and records of murders committed against freedmen.
This bureau operated in all the states of: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolin, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia West Virginia, and Indian Territory (i.e. Oklahoma) and has records from 1861 to the 1870s. The Freedmen’s Bureau created records at headquarters in Washington, DC, or by field agents in the various southern areas.
There are two sets of records:
(1) commissioner’s records, and
(2) field office records—normally the most useful. However, the commissioner’s records contain lists and reports such as two linear feet of marriage papers. Records from the field offices vary from state to state. Since most freedmen contacted the bureau at the local level, you will find the most genealogical data and clues in field office records
The Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands: Record Group 105 by Elaine Everly and Willna Pacheli of the National Archives [FHL book 973 F23ea; fiche 6002638-40] describes the bureau’s records. They are organized alphabetically by state, thereunder by offices, and thereunder by county or town. Part One is about Alabama, Arkansas (including the Oklahoma Indian Territory), the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Part Two is about Maryland and Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Part Three is about Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and the Freedmen's branch at of the Adjutant General's Office.
Most of the subordinate field office records, with the exception of selected records for New Orleans and Tennessee have not been microfilmed and are only available at the National Archives in Washington, DC. For a list of Freedmen’s Bureau records that are microfilmed see the Black Studies: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications [FHL book 973 A3bs; fiche 6002413; and on the Internet].
The Family History Library has many of the Freedmen’s Bureau microfilmed records. The microfilm numbers for most of these records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog Keyword Search using the search phrase “Bureau of Refugees”
first film or fiche #
|Number of films|
|National||Filed Offices||105||6002638||3 fiche|
|Select Series||105||M742||491550||7 rolls|
|Letters rece.||105||M752||908680||74 rolls|
|Education Division||105||M803||1695186||35 rolls|
|US court of Claims||123||M2007||unavailable||5 rolls|
|Marriage Rec.||105||M1875||2425252||5 rolls|
|Savings and Turst||101||M816||928571||27 rolls|
|Alabama||Assistant Comm.||105||M979||1498698||52 rolls|
|Sup. of Ed.||105||M810||1695841||8 rolls|
|Field Office||105||M1900||2424719||34 rolls|
|Arkansas||Assistant Comm.||105||M979||1498698||52 rolls|
|Sup. of Ed.||105||M980||1695811||5 rolls|
|Field Office||105||M1901||2424753||23 rolls|
|Delaware||Field Office||105||M1906||2424887||42 rolls|
|D. of C.||Assistant Comm.||105||M1055||1605536||21 rolls|
|Sup. of Ed.||105||M1056||1617650||24 rolls|
|Field Office||105||M1902||2424776||21 rolls|
|Florida||Assistant Comm.||105||M1869||2425908||15 rolls|
|Georgia||Assistant Comm.||105||M798||1498626||36 rolls|
|Sup. of Ed.||195||M799||1685269||28 rolls|
|Field Office||105||M1903||1574209||90 rolls|
|Kentucky||Field Office||105||M1904||2425923||133 rolls|
|Louisiana||Sup. of Ed.||105||M1026||1695273||12 rolls|
Freedmen's Bureau Online
The Freedmen’s Bureau Online Internet site includes numerous online database indexes. Select among the variety of databases mostly based on locality or by topic such as marriages, labor contracts, or murders. However, this online site does not include all the available records from the Freedmen's Bureau.
- Records Relating to Murders
- Records Relating to Freedmen's Labor
- Marriage Records: Most of these records are divided up by the state, then by the area, and then by the marriage date, month, or year of marriage. (These records can be found on the homepage under the contents heading at the left of the screen.)
- To find state-specific collections, go to the homepage and there is a list of states under the contents heading at the middle left of the screen. (Examples of some of these collections are: Alabama: Petition of Colored Citizens from Mobile, Alabama; Mississippi: Registers of Indentures of Colored Orphans, Aug. 1865 - May 1866; Tennessee: Index to Freedman's Labor Contracts between Tennessee Freedmen and employers in Kentucky.)
Using this site
Type a surname or name or term in question in the search site box. (Examples: Jones, Smith, etc. for surname searches OR land, marriages, etc. for keyword searches)
- Documents which seem a “best” match appears.
- Click on desired match.
- This site lists many other search sites for African American histories and genealogy websites.
- Their on-line bookstore carries many useful books of interest.
Other Web Sites
- Freedmen's Bureau Virginia Marriages ca. 1815-1866 online index and images in FamilySearch Record Search - Pilot.
- National Archives Black Family Research description of Freedmen’s Bureau records.
- Freedmen's Bureau Records of Field Offices 1865-1872 index and images at Ancestry.com. This database contains about 102,010 personal names from field office records for Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, New Orleans, and North Carolina. Information available in the database includes: name, record type, year, and field office location. Family History Centers and the Family History Library have limited access to this index. There is a subscription fee for home use.
- Elaine C. Everly, “Freedmen’s Bureau Records: An Overview,” article, National Archives, Prologue Magazine Summer 1997, Vol. 29, No., 2.