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So close to complete

The Legal Genealogist is at summer camp for genealogists this week — otherwise known as the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Alabama. So the blog this week is focusing on terms — words and phrases — we may come across in legal documents that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

Words like today’s term of the day: finish.

This doesn’t have any fancy legal definition.

We’re not going to one of the law dictionaries today.

We’re going to buckle down and look to ourselves and our commitment to genealogical records access instead.

Because we are so so so close to finishing up the work needed to make one of the greatest sets of genealogical records around truly accessible to researchers of all kinds, everwhere.

We are within a hair of finishing the indexing on the entirety of the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands — an agency that became known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.

freedmenThese records are amazing, for descendants of all the slaves and all the slaveowners who struggled to redefine themselves, their lives and their communities after the war.

And for descendants all of the members of those communities who weren’t themselves slaves or slaveowners but whose lives were impacted by that struggle to redefine life after the war.

And for descendants of the legions of southerners who weren’t slaves or slaveowners before the war, but who simply needed government help after the war.

And for descendants of the legions of government workers and officials and teachers and relief workers who worked for the bureau.

In other words, for just about anyone who lived or worked in the south in those years right after the Civil War.

The records reflect a massive effort by the federal government first and foremost to assist the newly freed slaves in their transition to lives of their own. There are records of labor contracts as the freedmen sought employment, rather than servitude, after the war. There are the first ever real vital records for this community, as the freedmen sought to obtain recognition of their marriages and the legitimacy of their children.

There are records of schools for the freedmen and free children — often with the first ever records of those children and their accomplishments.

And there are records of the terrible clashes between the members of a society accustomed to being served and those no longer obligated to serve, and the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau in trying to obtain justice for the freedmen in a system stacked against them. It provides a view of the southern legal system that can’t be found in the records of the southern courts — an unparalleled opportunity to see how the system worked, and how it didn’t, in those years.

For descendants of slaves and slaveowners, the records help break through the issues of a system that left slaves with first names only — if even those were recorded — before the 1870 census. African-American research is dramatically aided by access to these records.

But the records are more than that. They reflect a massive effort also to stabilize the southern economy and bring the former rebel states back into the Union. So you will find evidence of relief provided to huge numbers of southern residents devastated by the war, and the interactions of ordinary citizens with government.

Just one year ago, a massive undertaking began to index these records, made available at DiscoverFreedmen.org by FamilySearch, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum.1

And we are within a whisker of being finished. Some 98% of these records have been indexed, making them so much more useful and accessible for genealogists, historians and other researchers.

And we are closing in on getting it done.

Let’s do it. Let’s do it today.

Why today?

Because we want to get to the finish line today or tomorrow.

Why? Because of Juneteenth, of course:

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

…The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.2

What a way to celebrate Juneteenth 2016… by getting to the finish line on this indexing project.

We are sooooooo close.

Let’s do it.

Today.


SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “New: DiscoverFreedmen,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 June 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/ : accessed 16 June 2016).
  2. History of Juneteenth,” Juneteenth.com (http://www.juneteenth.com/ : accessed 16 June 2016).
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