My least favorite grade-school project was the notorious family tree. Even as a straight-A student, charting where I came from and from whom was an awkward, embarrassing task.
Growing up with four sisters and a brother from three different fathers, no memory of a grandfather from either my mother’s or father’s side and with a lineage allegedly tracing back to Arkansas and Panama, my tree always sprouted into a mumbled-jumbled twig with plenty of blank spaces and no solid roots.
Now, thanks to The Freedmen’s Bureau Project, the organization that has digitized hundreds of hand-written records of millions of emancipated slaves after the Civil War ended, researching family history and lineage may soon be an easier task.
Using FamilySearch.org’s database of more than 5 billion names in historical records, the project allows you to simply enter a last name to begin a search. The site features both images of the actual record as well as a digital transcription.
The records were gathered by the bureau between 1865 and 1872 as the office systematically kept logs of the former slaves it helped transition into citizenship, provided food, clothing, and housing for as well as of those for whom they officiated marriages and reconnected with lost family members.
150 years later, The Freedmen’s Bureau Project serves to connect African Americans with their families again. For the first time in U.S. history names of those recorded in the bureau are searchable in the database, giving access to resources that can help in discovering roots past slavery as well as finding other living relatives.
Find out more about the project here.