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Ancestry launches indexed record set

There’s no way to overstate the value of the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands — an agency that became known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.

It’s a record set that extends far beyond its name to just about anyone who lived or worked in the south in those years right after the Civil War.

And, as of today, there’s a new entry portal into that rich deep record set: they are available, free, fully indexed, at in a new free collection, that we can all access here:

The entry portal is name-searchable with one-stop search capabilities for roughly 3.5 million names across the full range of these critical post-Civil War-era records. You need to register for an Ancestry account, but a free guest account is just fine — no subscription is needed.

So… what’s the big deal about the Freedmen’s Bureau records? It’s that these genealogically rich rewarding records are simply priceless for descendants of all those who were enslaved and all those who held the enslaved in bondage who struggled to redefine themselves, their lives and their communities after the war.

And for descendants of all those living in those communities who weren’t themselves enslaved or enslavers 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 enslaved or enslavers 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 men, women and children 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 enslaved and enslavers, 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 there was relief provided to huge numbers of southern residents devastated by the war, and the interactions of ordinary citizens with government.

In other words, these are records of enormous value to just about anyone who descends from just about anyone who lived or worked in the south in those years right after the Civil War.

There are other outstanding collections of these records, to be sure. FamilySearch had its own deep collection and took the lead in digitizing the records more than five years ago, and a crowdsourced indexing project called DiscoverFreedmen added many names to the records.2 This entry portal makes the records easier to use, by searching across all the subsets including the Freedmen’s Bank records.

And anything that makes diving into these records easier — and does it for free — is a Very Good Thing.

Check it out:

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “New portal for Freedmen’s Bureau records,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 24 Aug 2021).


  1. See “U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau Records,” ( : accessed 24 Aug 2021).
  2. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Freedmen’s index: an amazing feat,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2016 ( : accessed 24 Aug 2021).
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