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United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Commissioner - FamilySearch Historical Records

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FamilySearch Record Search This article describes a collection of historical records scheduled to become available at FamilySearch.org.
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Record Description[edit | edit source]

The collection consists of images of the records of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (often called the Freedmen’s Bureau).

The bureau was created in 1865 at the end of the American Civil War 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.

This collection corresponds with the following NARA microfilm publications: M742, Selected Series of Records Issued by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands,1865-1872; and M752, Registers and Letters Received by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872.

You will be able to browse through images in this collection when it is published.

Record Content[edit | edit source]

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
  • Birthplace
  • Residence
  • Age
  • Document dates

How to Use the Records[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

To search the collection:
⇒Select "Browse through images" on the initial collection page
⇒Select the appropriate "Selected Series or Registers and Letters Recieved"
⇒Select the appropriate "NARA Roll Number-Contents" 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. 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.

Using the Information[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

  • 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?[edit | edit source]

  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for nicknames and abbreviated names.

Additional Information About These Records[edit | edit source]

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.

Related FamilySearch Historical Records Collection Articles[edit | edit source]

Related Websites[edit | edit source]

Related Wiki Articles[edit | edit source]

Contributions to This Article[edit | edit source]

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 Historical Records.

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


Citations for This Collection[edit | edit source]

When you copy information from a record, you should list where you found the information; that is, cite your sources. This will help people find the record again and evaluate the reliability of the source. 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. Citations are available for the collection as a whole and each record or image individually.

Collection citation:

"United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Commissioner, 1865-1872." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2014. Citing National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.

Image citation:
This template has been deprecated and is no longer used.

The image citation will be available once the collection is published.

To access available information, first log into FamilySearch.