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African American Freedmen's Bureau Records

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The Bureau's records (Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands), kept from 1865-1872, contain a wide range of data about the African American experience during slavery and freedom. Therefore, they are a valuable source for the black family historian. Refugees include many in the local white population. The Collection is located in the National Archives in Record Group 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861-1880. National Archives Catalog NAID 434.


Introduction[edit | edit source]

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (often called the Freedmen’s Bureau) was created by Congress on March 3, 1865 at the end of the American Civil War to aid the newly-freed slaves (freedmen) and refugees. It was created to supervise relief efforts, including education (4,300 schools were established), health care (100 hospitals were established), food and clothing, refugee camps, legalization of marriages, employment, labor contracts, and securing back pay, bounty payments, and pensions for soldiers and sailors. The Bureau also helped reunite families. The Bureau operations were terminated in 1872.

For more information see:

United States Congress

Freedmen's Bureau Records[edit | edit source]

Record Types

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (often called the Freedmen’s Bureau) created many different record types necessary to supervise relief efforts including education, health care, food and clothing, refugee camps, legalization of marriages, employment, labor contracts, and securing back pay, bounty payments and pensions. These records include letters and endorsements sent and received, account books, applications for rations, applications for relief, court records, labor contracts, registers of bounty claimants, registers of complaints, registers of contracts, registers of disbursements, registers of freedmen issued rations, registers of patients, reports, rosters of officers and employees, special and general orders and circulars received, special orders and circulars issued, records relating to claims, court trials, property restoration, and homesteads.

Value of Records

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 African American genealogy. See Freedmen's Bureau Record Types for a detailed listing of records created by the Freedmen's Bureau records. Some Bureau records include:

  • Registers (listing names, ages, former occupations of freedmen, and names and residences of former owners)
  • Marriage registers (listing names, addresses, ages, and complexions of husbands, wives, and their children)
  • Census lists
  • Applications of rations or relief
  • Labor and apprenticeship contracts
  • Back pay records
  • Registers of complaints
  • Personal data about black soldiers (including company and regiment)
  • School records
  • Registers of patients
  • Medical records
  • Registers of bounty claimants
  • Court records
  • Claim records
  • Records of murders committed against freedmen
  • Records relating to property restoration and homesteads

Here are some examples of records:

Challenges in Using the Records

There are some challenges to using these records:

  • Records limited in scope and time period they cover.
  • Not all of the records are indexed. Some record collections can only be searched image by image.
  • The record type and quality vary with each state and field office.
  • Individuals may have changed their names.
  • Not all records survived or are available in searchable formats.

Organization[edit | edit source]

The Freedmen’s Bureau created records at the headquarters in Washington, DC, state offices, and field agents. Field office records (local) usually contain more genealogical data.

Washington Headquarters

Commissioner (Oliver O. Howard)

  • Offices and Divisions
  • Division of Records (Official acts of the Commissioner)- Assistant Adjutant General
  • Finance Division- Chief Disbursing Officer:Lt. Col. George W. Bulloch;Major J.M. Brown
  • Land Division- Assistant Adjutant General William Fowler
  • Medical Division- Chief Medical Officer Caleb W. Honer;L.A. Edwards; Robert Reyburn
  • Claims Division- Assistant Adjutant General William Fowler; William P. Drew
  • Education Division- Rev. J.W. Alvord
  • Chief Quartermaster- Capt. Joseph M. Brown;Brevet Brigadier General Henry Whittlesey
  • State and Local
  • Assistant Commissioner
  • Correspondence
  • Issuances
  • Reports
  • Other Records
  • Superintendent of Education
  • Correspondence
  • Issuances
  • Reports
  • Other Records
  • Offices of Staff Offices
  • Subordinate (Local) Field Offices

National Archives Preliminary Inventory[edit | edit source]

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 describes the Bureau’s records. The volumes are arranged alphabetically by state. The records of the states are arranged in the following order: "Office of the Assistant Commissioner" then by "Offices of Staff Officers including the "Superintendent of Education" and by "Subordinate Field Offices."

National Archives Catalog


Mapping the Freedmen's Bureau[edit | edit source]

Mapping the Freedman's Bureau is a website helping researchers place their ancestors in the historical landscape.

Mapping includes:

  • Where Freedman's Bureau offices were located
  • Branch of the Freedman's Saving Bank
  • Freedmen's Bureau Hospitals
  • Freedmen's Schools
  • Contraband Camps
  • Battle sites where men who were in the US colored Troops fought

Mapping Occupation[edit | edit source]


Indexing and Transcription Projects[edit | edit source]

Discover Freedmen - FamilySearch[edit | edit source]

On Discoverfreedmen.org all of the Freedmen's Bureau collections on FamilySearch can be searched with one click.

National Museum of African American History & Culture[edit | edit source]

Accessing the Records[edit | edit source]

Collections on FamilySearch[edit | edit source]

Most of the Freedmen's Bureau records have been digitized and/or indexed on FamilySearch with the exception of some records from the Washington Headquarters.

Index and Image Collections:


Coverage Tables to Indexed Collections:


Image Browse Collections:

Commissioner

Assistant Commissioner

Superintendent of Education and Division of Education

Field Offices

Freedman's Branch

Collection Inventories to Browse Collections:

Field Office Bureau Personnel Coverage Tables:

Records of Bureau of Refugees, Freedman and Abandoned Lands and Freedman's Saving and Trust Company Available at the Family History Library
State Record Type Record Group NARA FamilySearch Catalog

First Film or Fiche #

Number of Films /Fiche Additional Reading
National Preliminary Inventory of Records of the Filed Offices Pt. 1 Alabama-Louisiana, Pt. 2 Maryland-South Carolina, and Pt. 3 Tennessee-Virginia 105 - FHL fiche 6002638 3 fiche - Inventory: Pt 1 Alabama-LouisianaPt 2 Maryland-South Carolina,Maryland-South CarolinaPt 3 Tennessee-Virginia

Select Series of Records issued by the Commissioner, 1865-1872 105 M742 FHL film 491550 7 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M742

Register and Letters Received by the Commissioner, 1865-1872 105 M752 FHL film 908680 74 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M752

Records of Education Division, 1865-1871 105 M803 FHL film 1695186 35 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M803

U.S. Court of Claims Docket Cards for Congressional Case Files, ca. 1884-1943 123 M2007 unavailable 5 rolls -

Marriage Records of Office of Commissioner, Washington Headquarters, 1861-1869 105 M1875 FHL film 2425252 5 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1875

Register of Signatures of Depositors in the Branches of the Freedman's Saving & Trust Company, 1865-1874 101 M816 FHL film 928571 27 rolls -

Records of the Commissioner of Claims (Southern Claims Commission) 1871-1880 56 M87 FHL film 1463975-1463976 14 rolls -







Alabama Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1850-1870 105 M809 FHL film 1612338 23 rolls

- Descriptive Pamphlet: M809



Records of Superintendent of Education, 1865-1870

105 M810 FHL film 1695841 8 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: FHL book: 973 J53m no. 810

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1900 FHL film 2424719 34 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1900






-
Arkansas Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869 105 M979 FHL film 1498698 52 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M979

Records of Superintendent of Education, 1865-1871 105 M980 FHL film 1695811 5 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M980

Records of Field Office,1865-1872 105 M1901 23 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1901






-
Delaware Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1906 FHL film 2424887 42 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1906






-
District of Columbia Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869 105 M1055 FHL film 1605536 21 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1055

Records of Superintendent of Education, 1865-1872 105 M1056 FHL film 1617650 24 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1056

Records of Field Office,1863-1872 105 M1902 FHL film 2424776 21 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1902






-
Florida Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1872 105 M1869 FHL film 2425908 15 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1869






-
Georgia Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869 105 M798 FHL film 1498626 36 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M798

Records of Superintendent of Education, 1865-1870 195 M799 FHL film 1685269 28 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M799

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1903 FHL film 1574209 90 rolls -






-
Kentucky Records of Field Office. 1865-1872 105 M1904 FHL film 2425923 133 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1904






-
Louisiana Records of Superintendent of Education, 1865-1869 105 M1026 FHL film 1695273 12 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1026

Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869

105

M1027

FHL film 1498662 36 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1027

Records of Field Office, 1863-1873 105 M1905 FHL film 2426056 111 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1905
New Orleans, Louisiana Records of Field Office, 1865-1869 105 M1483 FHL film 1604921 10 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1483






-
Maryland Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1906 FHL film 2424887 42 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1906






--
Mississippi

Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1863-1869

105 M826 FHL film 1616440 50 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M826

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1907 FHL film 2428148 65 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1907

Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1863-1865("Pre Bureau Records")

105 M1914 FHL film 2424701 5 rolls -






-
Missouri Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1908 FHL film 2426982 24 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1908






-
North Carolina Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1862-1879 105 M843 FHL film 1616841 38 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M843

Records of Superintendent of Education, 1864-1869 105 M844 FHL film 1695567 16 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M844

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1909 FHL film 2427006 78 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1909






-
South Carolina Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1870 105 M869 FHL film 1579188 44 rolls

Martin Abbott, The Freedman's Bureau in South Carolina, 1865-72. (Chapel Hill: university of North Carolina Press, 1967)

- Descriptive Pamphlet:M869



Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869 105 T999 FHL film 1616490 34 rolls -

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1910 FHL 2427084 106 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1910






-
Tennessee Records of Superintendent of Education, 1865-1870 105 M1000 FHL film 1685219 9 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1000

Records of Field Office,1865-1872 105 M1911 FHL film 2427190 89 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1911

Selected Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 T142 FHL film 1616879 73 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:

Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869

105 M999 FHL film 1616490 34 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M999






-
Texas Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869 105 M821 FHL film 1503542 32 rolls

Barry A. Crouch, Hidden Sources of Black History: The Texas Freedmen's Bureau Records as a Case Study. Southwestern Historical Quarterly 83 (1980): 211-26.

-Descriptive Pamphlet:M821



Records Superintendent of Education, 1865-1870 105 M822 FHL film 169516 18 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M822

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1912 FHL film 2427279 28 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1912






-
Virginia Records of Assistant Commissioner, 1865-1869 105 M1048 FHL film 1601562 67 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet:M1048

Records of Sup. of Education, 1865-1870 105 M1053 FHL film 1549578 20 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet: M1053

Records of Field Office, 1865-1872 105 M1913 FHL film 2413534 203 rolls - Descriptive Pamphlet M1913

Government Reports of Bureau Operations

Freedmen's Bureau Online[edit | edit source]

The Freedmen’s Bureau Online website 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.

Content[edit | edit source]

  • 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.)
  • This site lists many other search sites for African American histories and genealogy websites.
  • Their on-line bookstore carries many useful books of interest.

Using the site[edit | edit source]

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)

  1. Documents which seem a “best” match appears.
  2. Click on desired match.

Library of Congress[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Wiki articles on African American research are found at:

For more information:

Civil War Pre-Bureau Operations[edit | edit source]

Contraband Camps

Contraband Lists

Publications

  • Louis S. Gerteis. From Contraband to Freedmen. Federal Policy toward Southern Blacks, 1861-1865. (1973)
  • Henry Lee Swint, ed. Dear Ones at Home: Letters from Contraband Camps. (Nashville, 1966)
  • Amy Murrell Taylor. Embattled Freedom. Journeys through the Civil War Slave Refugee Camps. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Government Reports


Records of Civil War Special Agents of the Treasury Department, 1861-1866 Record Group 366


Freedmen Relief Associations

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]