SALT LAKE CITY — A project to index the records of 4 million freed African-American slaves is now completed, almost a year to the day after the project was launched by the LDS Church’s FamilySearch International genealogy service with an announcement June 19 of last year at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
The Freedmen’s Bureau Project has marshaled the efforts of 18,940 volunteers working coast to coast in the United States and Canada, uncovering the names of nearly 1.8 million of some 4 million pre-Civil War era slaves.
Nationwide chapters of the Afro-American Genealogy and Historical Society and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture — slated to open later this year — partnered with FamilySearch to undertake the project, which drew upon documents from the National Archives and Records Administration.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was an agency following the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to assist newly freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Between 1865 and 1872, the bureau gathered handwritten documents on freed men, women and children, including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records.
The digitally indexed records will be symbolically presented to the Smithsonian in September of this year when the museum is opened in Washington, D.C. At that time, all of the records will also be available to search online free of charge.
“In addition to our valuable partners, the project was embraced by dedicated genealogists, religious groups, universities and even was the focus of Eagle Scout projects,” said Thom Reed, marketing manager for FamilySearch, an entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We all sensed an urgency to bring this important chapter in history to life and shine a light on this courageous generation of African-Americans.”
William Durrant of the Metro Atlanta Chapter of the Afro-American Genealogy and Historical Society, said, “Indexing Freedmen’s Bureau records puts you ‘up close and personal’ with ancestors and their struggles to begin life anew after slavery. It helps prepare you for your own research and saves time because you become familiar with the records, their format and wording, and (you) already know where to look for names.”
Hollis Gentry, genealogy specialist at the museum, said: “You’ll find African-American genealogists are quite excited about the Freedmen’s Bureau Project. It offers a tremendous potential for them to find their ancestors in this large group of federal records that may bridge the gap between freedom and slavery in the records.”
The project “will change the very fabric of genealogy for African-Americans,” said Sherri Camp of the historical society.
Michael Judson of FamilySearch said it will be a few more months before all the records are online.
“To ensure the accuracy of the indexed information, two volunteers index each document,” he explained. “Any differences between the entries of these two volunteers is reviewed by a third, experienced volunteer called an arbitrator. The arbitrator chooses the correct indexed data or adds their own information when neither appears to be correct.”
Even more records have been discovered as a result of the project, and they will be available for indexing by volunteers on DiscoverFreedmen.org, to be added to the collection at the Smithsonian and made available online.
“Now that the names are indexed, we will focus our efforts on teaching African-Americans how to search the new digital records to discover and reunite with their families.”
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