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

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United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Commissioner, 1865-1872
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This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.
United States
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Flag of the United States of America
NARA logo circular black on white.jpg
National Archives and Records Administration Logo
Record Description
Record Type Freedmen and Refugee Records
Record Group RG 105: Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands
Collection years 1865-1872
Microfilm Publication M742. Selected Series of Records Issued by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872. 7 rolls.
  M752. Registers and Letters Received by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872. 74 rolls.
National Archives Identifier 434
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites
Archive
National Archives and Records Administration


What is in This Collection?[edit | edit source]

The collection consists of images of the records of the Commissioner (Oliver O. Howard) of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (often called the Freedmen’s Bureau).The following link will provide a description of the record types found in this and other Freedmen’s Bureau collections.Freedmen's Bureau Record Types

This collection includes name and subject indexes, letters and endorsements sent, circulars and special orders that were issued by Oliver O. Howard Commissioner of the Bureau from NARA microfilm publication: M742, and indexes and registers and letters received by the Commissioner from NARA microfilm publication M752.

Additional records of the Washington Headquarters located in the National Archives include the following:

  • Records of the Commissioner: Some of the records relate to offices and civilians who worked for the bureau
  • Records of the Chief Disbursing Officer: Some of the records relate to the payment of claims for veterans
  • Records of the Land Division: Some collections will identify the property owner of abandoned and confiscated lands
  • Records of the Chief Medical Officer: Managed the hospitals and dispensaries and the treatment of patients
  • Records of the Claims Division: Helped veterans with claims for bounties, pensions and back pay
  • Education Division: Worked with societies in establishing and maintaining local schools. Some records identify teachers
  • Records of the Chief Quartermaster: Provided transportation to refugees, freedmen and teachers
  • Records of the Assistant Inspector General: Distributed supplies to freedmen and refugees in need
  • Records of the Archives Division

The following Freedmen's Bureau, Washington Headquarters, Records of the Commissioner, Inventory will provide additional details.


  • Freedmen's Branch Office,1872-1879
  • Records of the Assistant Adjutant General
  • Records of the Chief Disbursing Officer


To Browse This Collection[edit | edit source]

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Commissioner, 1865-1872.

Collection Content[edit | edit source]

Sample Images[edit | edit source]

What Can This Collection Tell Me?[edit | edit source]

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.

The information varies by record. You may find any of the following:

  • Name of the freedman
  • Name of the freedman’s former owner
  • Date of the record
  • Birthplace
  • Residence
  • Age
  • Document dates

How Do I Search This Collection?[edit | edit source]

To begin your search it is helpful to know:

  • The name of your ancestor
  • The approximate age of your ancestor
  • The place where your ancestor lived
  • The name of the former slave owner

View images in this collection by visiting the Browse Page:
To search the collection you will need to follow this series of links:
⇒Select the "Browse" link in the initial search page
⇒Select the appropriate "Selected Series or Registers and Letters Received"
⇒Select the "NARA Roll Number - Contents" which takes you to the images

What Do I Do Next?[edit | edit source]

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. Save a copy of the image or transcribe the information. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details such as a title, an occupation, or land ownership. Add this new information to your records of each family. You should also look for leads to other records about your ancestors.

I Found the Person I Was Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • Use the information found to search for the family in census records
  • Use the information found to search for the family in church records
  • Use the information found to search for the family in land and probate records
  • Use the information found to search for the family in additional state and county records

I Can't Find the Person I'm Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • There may be more than one person in the records with the same name
  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for nicknames and abbreviated names
  • Look for another index. Local genealogical and historical societies often have indexes to local records
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties
  • 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 that may be your ancestor
  • Former slaves may have had used multiple names or changed their names until they decided upon one particular name. Search all possible names along with variations or spellings of their known names

General Information About Freedmen's Bureau Records[edit | edit source]

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]

Citing This Collection[edit | edit source]

Citations help you keep track of places you have searched and sources you have found. Identifying your sources helps others find the records you used.

Collection Citation

"United States, Freedmen's Bureau, Records of the Commissioner, 1865-1872." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2017. Citing NARA microfilm publications M742 and M752. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969 and 1973.

Image Citation:
When looking at an image, the citation is found on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen.

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