The Names of 1.8 Million Emancipated Slaves Are Now Searchable in the World’s Largest Genealogical Database, Helping African Americans Find Lost Ancestors

The successes of the Freedman’s Bureau, initiated by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and first administered under Oliver Howard’s War Department, are all the more remarkable considering the intense popular and political opposition to the agency. Under Lincoln’s successor, impeached Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson, the Bureau at times became a hostile entity to the very people it was meant to aid and protect—the formerly enslaved, especially, but also poor whites devastated by the war. After years of defunding, understaffing, and violent insurgency the Freedman’s Bureau was officially dissolved in 1872.

In those first few years after emancipation, however, the Bureau built several hospitals and over a thousand rural schools in the South, established the Historically Black College and University system, and “created millions of records,” notes the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), “that contain the names of hundreds of thousands of formerly enslaved individuals and Southern white refugees.” Those records have enabled historians to reconstruct the lives of people who might otherwise have disappeared from the record and helped genealogists trace family connections that might have been irrevocably broken.




As we noted back in 2015, those records have become part of a digitization project named for the Bureau and spearheaded by the Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. “Using modern, digital and web-based technology and the power of [over 25,000!] volunteers,” says Hollis Gentry, a genealogical specialist at the NMAAHC, the Freedman’s Bureau Project “is unlocking information from a transformative era in the history of African American families and the American nation.”

That information is now available to the general public, “globally via the web” here, as of June 20th, 2016, allowing “all of us to enlarge our understanding of the past.” More specifically, the Freedman’s Bureau Project and FamilySearch allows African Americans to recover their family history in a database that now includes “the names of nearly 1.8 million men, women and children” recorded by Freedman’s Bureau workers and entered by Freedman’s Bureau Project volunteers 150 years later. This incredible database will give millions of people descended from both former slaves and white Civil War refugees the ability to find their ancestors.

There’s still more work to be done. In collaboration with the NMAAHC, the Smithsonian Transcription Center is currently relying on volunteers to transcribe all of the digital scans provided by FamilySearch. “When completed, the papers will be keyword searchable. This joint effort will help increase access to the Freedmen’s Bureau collection and help the public learn more about the United States in the Reconstruction Era,” a critical time in U.S. history that is woefully underrepresented or deliberately whitewashed in textbooks and curricula.

“The records left by the Freedmen's Bureau through its work between 1865 and 1872 constitute the richest and most extensive documentary source available for investigating the African American experience in the post-Civil War and Reconstruction eras,” writes the National Archives. Soon, all of those documents will be publicly available for everyone to read. For now, those with roots in the U.S. South can search the Freedman’s Bureau Project database to discover more about their family heritage and history.

And while the Smithsonian’s transcription project is underway, those who want to learn more can visit the Freedman’s Bureau Online, which has transcribed hundreds of documents, including labor records, narratives of “outrages committed on freedmen," and marriage registers.

Related Content:

1.5 Million Slavery Era Documents Will Be Digitized, Helping African Americans to Learn About Their Lost Ancestors

Visualizing Slavery: The Map Abraham Lincoln Spent Hours Studying During the Civil War

The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Free Course

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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Comments (33)
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  • K Berry says:

    This article should be corrected and updated to say that the Freedmen’s Bureau was dissolved in 1872, not 1972.

  • Sonya says:

    I created a log in and the link will not work. 😢

  • Orisheju Ukuedojor says:

    This is an outstanding project, that will open so many doors to learning and reconnecting with history.

  • Raqeeb Ahmed says:

    Thanks for sharing, it’s true.

  • Beatrice Boyd says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I believe it will definitely help in locating ancestors from that era.

  • Ramona Hewitt-Williams says:

    #Poweful #RealFacts #RealTalk
    I’m Interested in my finding my #Ancestors.

    My biological #Father is
    Caucasian-Greek-Irish Americab and my mother African French-Jewish American.

    Every American needs to know the #Truth about our #Ancestors
    This is a great help in finding our true identity and family history for our #American Legacy. #GodsAmazingGrace.
    Thank You! Happy New
    Ra’mona Hewitt-Williams

  • Rey says:

    Fantastic!

  • Shannon C Teid says:

    To Whom It May Concern,
    How can people who are interested in helping to digitize records volunteer in their area. I would LOVE to help with this project.

    Eager To Help,

    Shannon C Reid

  • Annette Mcilwain says:

    Search for Truedale and Mcilwain family history. Mother and Father! Columbus mcilwain and Truedale family.

  • Laura D says:

    I’m hoping this will help me further my search for my ancestors. I was able to trace my father’s name back to a slave owner in Washington, NC with the same last name. However, then it only shows the ages of the slaves and not their names. So, that of course made me come to a dead end. So, hoping this research engine will help me. I’m very excited about it.

  • ALONZO K GOLDEN-ALSTON says:

    Iam interested in ELBERT AND PRINCESS GOLDEN a Slave from the
    CONGO to THE GAULDEN PLANTATION in
    McIntosh County,Georgia.Later moved
    to Liberty County,Georgia.Purchased
    200 acres of land and established
    WILLIE,GA With a School and a
    Post Office.ELBERT GOLDEN sold the
    land for the expansion of FORT
    STEWART MILITARY BASE, HINESVILLE,
    Georgia.

  • ALONZO K GOLDEN-ALSTON says:

    Iam interested in ELBERT AND PRINCESS GOLDEN a Slave from the
    CONGO to THE GAULDEN PLANTATION in
    McIntosh County,Georgia.Later moved
    to Liberty County,Georgia.Purchased
    200 acres of land and established
    WILLIE,GA With a School and a
    Post Office.ELBERT GOLDEN sold the
    land for the expansion of FORT
    STEWART MILITARY BASE, HINESVILLE,
    Georgia.

    The Alston Family of South Carolina

  • Brandon childs says:

    Looking for info. On my Maternal Great Grandparents Names where Randle Coleman Born 1855 In Lauren County SC, died between 1911 and 1920 in Greenville Sc he’s on the 1910 census but not the 1920 his wife Missouri was listed on the 1920 census as a widow . I can’t find any information on Missouri before she married

  • Lawrence Diggs says:

    Pleased to know that this information is forthcoming or available. I’ve been trying to locate information on my maternal grandparents last listed in the Missouri census in 1910; they disappear in the Missouri 1920 census. What’s with that?

    My maternal grandmother was born in 1900 in St. Louis, Mo.; She was a mulatto but her mother’s information is not available. Her father, as we were informed, was supposed to be her father. But the 1910 census lists him as her brother. Need answers. Still searching. Won’t stop!!

  • Delois Sheppared says:

    Hi I have searched the Sheppard, Smith,Boles,and Steadyway family names.I lean that my African heirs are from the Congo areas. I would like to know more about the tribe and ancestors.

  • Alexis June says:

    This title is problematic. “The names of ________ PEOPLE who were enslaved,” would be a better, less racist way to discuss actual people, who suffered the greatest atrocities know to humankind. Those people, being the direct descendants of the first actual HUMAN beings. They were not just ‘slaves.’

    Whether liberal or conservative, your views of black people remain a constant problem with the progression of society. You see us as objects, and not the divine beings we are. Your ignorance is abundantly rooted in colonial conditioning, and regardless of the level of education attained, none of it has taught you to think so freely, that you could assign humanity to the very PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY BUILT THIS piss poor country- a country that continues to objectify them as only ‘slaves,’ while simultaneously diminishing their works and accomplishments. This entire country owes EVERYTHING in its existence to those very “slaves.”

    Next time, do better.

  • Daphne McGhee says:

    This information is so powerful and will open more doors to our history. And yes, there are many people like myself who new earlier records of our ancestor do exist.

  • Lahaja says:

    Correction to the title is needed. It should read: “The Names of 1.8 Million of Enslaved Africans That Were Emancipated Are Now Searchable…”

  • Andre Kearns says:

    At this point, most who were enslaved were African-descended Americans, not African.

    Here’s my proposed friendly amendment, “The Names of 1.8 Million Emancipated from Slavery Are Now Searchable…”

  • Joan Holbert Hubert says:

    I hope to find information about Lewis Holbert, born in 1806 in North Carolina. He is my 2nd Great Grandfather. I have also been searching for the Frater name in North Carolina. I know that there are many Fraters who lived there. I learned that they came from Madagascar. I hope to try to put my “tree” together before I am too old to write.
    Another name on my unfinished “tree” is the Felder name. Primus Felder, born in 1805, came to Texas around 1850ish, from South Carolina. His son was Milton Felder. I have connected with a Felder Descendant who is the Genealogist for the Felder name and he told me about Hans Heinrich Felder and others. Still looking to try to make some inroads into my Ancestors.

  • Anthony G. Baxter says:

    Seeking information on my paternal great grandfather, Isaac Baxter, Sr. and his wife, Emma (nee Boyd). Isaac had two brothers William, Sr. who married Mary Jane (nee Haynes), and John H., Sr. Who married Abigail (nee Govan). The brothers lived in and around Orangeburg, SC. William fought in the Civil War in the SC US Colored Troops. We have copious information about their adult lives, but we have been unable to to find the record of who were their parents. We know from WE know from family stories that the brothers had been slaves to someone named Baxter or on a plantation owned by someone named Baxter.

    Can this project help my family breakthrough the shroud of slavery to discover our enslaved forebears?

  • Anthony G. Baxter says:

    Seeking information on my paternal great grandfather, Isaac Baxter, Sr. and his wife, Emma (nee Boyd). Isaac had two brothers William, Sr. who married Mary Jane (nee Haynes), and John H., Sr. Who married Abigail (nee Govan). The brothers lived in and around Orangeburg, SC. William fought in the Civil War in the SC US Colored Troops. We have copious information about their adult lives, but we have been unable to to find the record of who were their parents. We know from WE know from family stories that the brothers had been slaves to someone named Baxter or on a plantation owned by someone named Baxter.

    I hope this project can help my family breakthrough the shroud of slavery to discover our enslaved forebears?

  • Zenaide PAssos says:

    Toda essa informação inclui escravos brasileiros? Ou só os americanos

  • JD says:

    You can join the indexing project by going to Familysearch dot org. If you do not have an account with them, you’ll have to create one. Click on the Indexing tab and go to Web Indexing. Scroll down to the tab Find Groups. Click on it, and do a search for Restore the Ancestors 2019. You’ll ask to join the group, and the admins will have to approve. Currently, the projects that Restore the Ancestors 2019 are intermediate, and if you haven’t indexed before click on Find a Project to get experience indexing a beginning project.

  • LN says:

    I am familiar with some of the families of Southeast GA. My maternal family is from Riceboro. Unfortunately our family name (Jackson and Gordon) do not produce any records in the slave records in Liberty County- leading me to believe we either had a different name or came to the area in some other way.

  • Kim Baker says:

    Looking for info about maternal great grandfather, Isaac Wells, born October 11, 1840 in Washington, D.C..
    Served in Civl War in Ohio Colored 5th

  • Norman diggs jr says:

    Hi had Diggs in st Louis at time period my great grandfather John Diggs born in Mississippi and grandfather Mitchell benedict Diggs. My father was also born there .

  • JANA ROUSE says:

    I can’t get the search link to work either

  • REGINA SERLES says:

    As we know the sources are incomplete due to the fact these same sources have been lying all the time. Christians! The Spainish kept excellent records in what was known as Port Judah, Louisiana. Underground archives were in vaults underground in Louisiana. The Mormons also kept excellent maybe Superior records. Most of this information can be verified in Library vaults well before the sources mentioned here. Anything to have us scrambling like pigeons for bits and parts. There are many sources but I dare not mention more otherwise those records would be scattered/ burned like that island. This system would never be honest. However, bits and pieces is better than nothing. Thank you.

  • REGINA SERLES says:

    Correction. Port Juda…(this vehicle keeps correcting JUDA) Louisiana. Also another source are the old (Rice) plantation maps. They listed the slave Owners names and who they purchased the slaves from and what ship the slaves were on as well as their names before the slave name’s were changed along with their skills.
    Believe me the only reason ‘they’ held onto this info so that ‘they’ could boast.

  • Jerimy West says:

    Finally a true starting point for all of us to be able to begin our family tree and story I will make sure that my family and I find our beginning so we can give our grandkids their history

  • Eric Robinson says:

    How do I volunteer to help. I am retired and have plenty of free time.

  • Pamela Fields Kirby says:

    I’m interested in finding more about Alfred Fields and Anarchy (Tyson) Fields from Greene County North Carolina… I am also trying to find out if Alfred had any siblings….He was born 1842 or 1843 I think…. Also I’m trying to find out if Adam Fields married to Chaney Fields from Greene County,North Carolina are related…

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