United States Freedmen’s Branch Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
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Collection Time Period
The dates covered by this collection are 1862 through 1870.
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, more than 25% of the population of former African American slaves in America.
Why This Record Was Created
The records identify those who sought help from the Bureau at the end of the Civil War. Most supplicants were freed slaves; some of them were military veterans. In addition, a few veterans sought help from the Bureau who were not African Americans.
Freedmen’s Bureau records are usually reliable, because the records were supplied through first-person correspondence or the recording of a marriage.
The Freedmen’s Bank records are the most commonly known records created by the Freedmen’s Bureau and have been described separately. Records that are not associated with the Freedmen’s Bank generally consist of marriage documentation or records, census information, and correspondence dealing with Bureau issues. The records are arranged chronologically.
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, and the microfilms are available at the Family History Library.
The following important genealogical information is often found in Bureau records: • Name of the freedman • Name of the freedman’s former owner
- Date of the record
- Marriage date
- Marriage place
How to Use the Record
The Freedmen’s Bureau records are a major source of genealogical information about post Civil War African Americans. Freedmen's Bureau records are a good source to quickly identify a family group and residence. Use the place of residence and other information for each person along with his or her age to search for the individuals in census records and other types of records.
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Sources of This Collection
"Freedmen's Bureau Letters - North Carolina, 1862-1870," database, FamilySearch Historical Records, 2010; from National Archives and Records Administration. “Freedmen’s Bureau Letters, North Carolina.” National Archives, Washington, D.C. FHL microfilm, 38 reels. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
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