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


The Freedmen’s Bureau Project — a new ini­tia­tive spear­head­ed by the Smith­son­ian, the Nation­al Archives, the Afro-Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal and Genealog­i­cal Soci­ety, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-Day Saints — will make avail­able online 1.5 mil­lion his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, final­ly allow­ing descen­dants of for­mer African-Amer­i­can slaves to learn more about their fam­i­ly roots. Near the end of the US Civ­il War, The Freedmen’s Bureau was cre­at­ed to help new­ly-freed slaves find their foot­ing in post­bel­lum Amer­i­ca.

The Bureau “opened schools to edu­cate the illit­er­ate, man­aged hos­pi­tals, rationed food and cloth­ing for the des­ti­tute, and even sol­em­nized mar­riages.” And, along the way, the Bureau gath­ered hand­writ­ten records on rough­ly 4 mil­lion African Amer­i­cans. Now, those doc­u­ments are being dig­i­tized with the help of vol­un­teers, and, by the end of 2016, they will be made avail­able in a search­able data­base at discoverfreedmen.org.

Accord­ing to Hol­lis Gen­try, a Smith­son­ian geneal­o­gist, this archive “will give African Amer­i­cans the abil­i­ty to explore some of the ear­li­est records detail­ing peo­ple who were for­mer­ly enslaved,” final­ly giv­ing us a sense “of their voice, their dreams.”

You can learn more about the project by watch­ing the video below, and you can vol­un­teer your own ser­vices here.

via The Guardian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Civ­il War and Recon­struc­tion: A Free Course

Twelve Years a Slave: Free eBook and Audio Book of the Mem­oir Behind the Film (1853)

“Ask a Slave” by Azie Dungey Sets the His­tor­i­cal Record Straight in a New Web Series

Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es

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Comments (68)
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  • Matt says:

    The Mor­mons are real­ly try­ing to com­pen­sate for their racist doc­trines, aren’t they?

  • Rose says:

    The Nation­al Archives in Atlanta has remark­able doc­u­ments. There is a list of names of slaves car­ried over on a slave ship, I believe they call it a man­i­fest. Unbe­liev­able some­thing so old and so mean­ing­ful sur­vived, but it did.

  • Jackie Jones says:

    Iwould love to be a part of this.

  • Carro Denise Wimberly says:

    Glad this is unfold­ing anoth­er chap­ter in Black Expe­ri­ence! Way to go!

  • Barbara Lashley Ogletree says:

    I would love to know all about my ances­tors but my fathers grand­fa­ther made his moth­er give him away. He lat­er found his moth­er but was told by her that he did­n’t need to know who his father was, I can’t under­stand a moth­er say­ing this to her child. All I know is she say her name is Car­rie McCoy from Man­ches­ter Geor­gia and had 2 chil­dren, the daugh­ter did­n’t know any­more. I could nev­er fig­ure out my grand­moth­ers birth year because if my father was alive he would be 98yo. Sad for me that I will nev­er know my ances­try.

  • Brianna says:

    With the lit­tle bit of details you do have, try Ancestry.com. They do have records for African Amer­i­cans. I went back gen­er­a­tions with both sides of my fam­i­ly.

  • Stacie says:

    I would like to help!!! I have gone to Ancestry.com and reach a wall. I could only see as far as my grand­ma and grand­pa birth par­ents but that’s it.

  • Alvin J Pinkney Sr says:

    I would like to help please con­tact me

  • Sheila D. Gresham says:

    What hap­pens when you can’t trav­el to oth­er des­ti­na­tions for oth­er archives that are not read­i­ly avail­able to you. Sounds like a good project, but then again a lot of us have no means or funds to do the trav­el­ing it takes for that ulti­mate search. Hope the freed­mans project do us very need­ed jus­tice.

  • Adrienne Slater says:

    To Whom it May con­cern,

    I would very much like to become a vol­un­teer. Please let me know how I may vol­un­teer?

    Thank you.

  • Adrienne Slater says:

    Please con­tact me on how to vbe­come a vol­un­teer.

    Thank you.

  • Kimberly Tigner says:

    I want to help. I can vol­un­teer my time. Please let me know how I may be of ser­vice. Thank you for doing this.

  • Kimberly Tigner says:

    I now see by going to the web­site: http://www.discoveryfreedmen.organization is where we go to vol­un­teer to help.

  • Marsha Moseley says:

    I would like to vol­un­teer as well. I have been able to trace my moth­er’s fam­i­ly back to slav­ery through Ancestry.com.
    I would love to help make more genealog­i­cal infor­ma­tion avail­able to the pub­lic.

  • Graham Nickerson says:

    What about rev­o­lu­tion­ary era run­away slave records?

  • Tod Robbins says:

    Good for them.

  • Want to vol­un­teer

  • D. Estes says:

    Please add me to email list. Thank. You

  • D. Estes says:

    Please add my email to your list. Thank. You.

  • Jacquelyn Cook says:

    Great idea! I have so much infor­ma­tion already! Hop­ing to gath­er more!💜

  • ThePatrioteer says:

    Holy waste of tax pay­er mon­ey.

  • Samantha Bowe says:

    I would love to vol­un­teer. Geneal­o­gy is one of my inter­est. I am cur­rent­ly trac­ing my roots and this new infor­ma­tion will be so help­ful.

  • Deborah Bush says:

    I loved it and I will research my fam­i­ly her­itage.

  • Katherine Thompson says:

    Like to help.

  • I hope that this will help me and oth­ers learn about their fam­i­lies please email me more thank you

  • the worlds has Ben Need­ing this for a long time so many peo­ple would like to know about your fam­i­lies

  • Patrick says:

    Don’t trust any of them !they are aware if our awak­en­ing of being israelites and not hamites and only want to try and rein­force the notion that we were sold by our own when in actu­al­i­ty it was a devi­ous plot by the africans ‚arabs and Cau­casians to take us of of the land .they all had their own rea­sons but it ulti­mate­ly result­ed in our cap­tiv­i­ty here
    Stop look­ing for your ene­my to tell you who you are . Who we are is in scrip­ture in the 28 chap­ter of the book of Deuteron­o­my. We inher­it­ed those curs­es .

  • Gloria says:

    I would love to be apart of this great effort to help not only myself and my fam­i­ly, but oth­ers also.

  • Sheryl says:

    This infor­ma­tion is going to bring new light to many African Amer­i­cans. So many of our sto­ries have been lost; this data base will be a good resource.

  • Leo morris says:

    I will help wher­ev­er i can fit in!

  • Turenne says:

    Indeed we must know where we come from to unde­stand where we are going. To be involve in recon­struct­ing the sto­ries and make them avail­able to all is a great thing.

  • Dawn Wright says:

    Please count me in! Thanks!

  • Dana Brewer says:

    I have some doc­u­ments you may be inter­est­ed in. I have a con­tract of a slace trade and a doc­u­ment show­ing the worth and health of spe­cif­ic slaves.

  • Coco says:

    Omg enough already! Talk about being played out! You don’t hear the poor Jews talk­ing about the holi­cost and that was god awful! So you worked for the “white man“and some of you were whipped if you got out of line if you ask me most of them act like caged ani­mals they are suck­ing this coun­try dry because they are too lazy to work, and when they work it’s always 1/2 ass or they are drug deal­ers!

  • Becky says:

    No, that is not cor­rect. The LDS have always believed in the bap­tism of the dead. Slaves records have always been avail­able.

  • Vernelda Dean-Korneagay says:

    I would love to help. I have been able to trace my fam­i­ly back to the 1700’s.

  • Fredrick Shaw says:

    Look­ing for any infor­ma­tion

  • John Render says:


    I might be able to point in the right direc­tion. My moth­er’s maid­en name is Ogle­tree from Greenville,GA, an adja­cent town to Man­ches­ter Geor­gia. Let try and con­nect.


    I am very inter­est­ed in find­ing out about my ances­try. To date how­ev­er, I have not expend­ed much ener­gy in gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion. Avail­able infor­ma­tion at this time is scarce and incom­plete. How­ev­er, with the assis­tance that the data­base may pro­vide, it is pos­si­ble that I can find out more. I am retired and not real­ly involved in any­thing. My grand­daugh­ter has advised me to become involved in a project. This sounds per­fect for me.

  • Malikah K Shabazz says:

    Thank You for shar­ing .. I’m try­ing to fine by broth­er. To God be the Glo­ry..

  • Pierre Savoie says:

    Will they reveal the WHOLE truth, such as that the first record­ed slave-own­er in the Unit­ed States was him­self Black?

  • Empress says:

    What was this coun­try before enslaved, civ­i­lized, Africans tilled the land and nav­i­gat­ed ships, and made friends with the Natives so the white man could sur­vive bring­ing his sick­ness and lust for killing and rap­ing along with him. How­ev­er you call African Amer­i­cans the caged ani­mals my dear?…Please do your his­to­ry research before spew­ing forth igno­rant slan­der from the depths of your sad, sad, hate­ful soul. Bless­ings to you. You need some.

  • Jessica says:

    Try Ancestry.com and run your DNA. You will be absolute­ly shocked at what you can find. Ances­try will auto load your docs and any­one dis­tant­ly relat­ed to you will pop up on your tree. With a lit­tle detec­tive work through DNA, cen­sus docs, reg­istries, birth and mar­riage records you will fig­ure out your ances­try. Hope this helps.

  • How can I help?🍏😀💚

  • Shirley Watson says:

    I would like to vol­un­teer. I have recent­ly retired also and need some­thing to do. The answer to the gen­tle­man’s state­ment who cares what mas­sa did we all know that let’s move on and find out where we came from so we will know where we need to go.

  • Sabrina scott says:

    I would love to help with this project please con­tact me. Thank you!

  • Bill says:

    “Empress” lmao stfu already. You’re not an empress. You’re not a queen. You’re not a fuck­ing lion. You’re a human just like all of us. Sit down and shut the fuck up!

  • Marion Acoff says:

    Inter­est­ed in the Acoff, Shaw, Mauldin, and Worm­ley sur­names of Alaba­ma…

  • This is so impor­tant.

  • Kimberly correthers says:

    Will all this help black folk receive repa­ra­tions which we so rich­ly deserve?

  • Fun'Tayus Flewellen- EL says:

    The Smith­son­ian can’t be trust­ed, as they will work most dili­gent to hide the fact that many of are Abo­rig­i­nal and Indige­nous to North, Cen­tral, and South Amer­i­ca, i.e… the plan­et. Ask them how many arti­facts they have inten­tion­al­ly destroyed, as well what arti­facts of ou can be found in the Grand Canyon?

    Fun’­Tayus Flewellen- EL
    The Moor

  • careen harding says:

    I think it is awe­some that we got peo­ple who want to edu­cate the younger gen­er­a­tion. I hope for this day, since the schools was not giv­ing the chil­dren the true his­to­ry we got to. Thank God the truth shall be reveal.

  • Sheryl Emery says:

    The auto gen­er­at­ed cap­tions are screwed up! Please add appro­pri­ate cap­tion­ing for deaf and hard of hear­ing peo­ple. Frus­trat­ing!!!

  • victor smith says:

    This is Beau­ti­ful! Blacks need know their roots and all that went down. Thanks for such oppor­tu­ni­ty. Keep it up no mat­ter what.

  • Markus Solomon says:

    Ready to learn

  • John H. HALL says:

    I would love to vol­un­teer @ the free­man’s bureau project. I have researched my mater­nal slav­ery his­to­ry and would love to do research on my pater­nal ances­tors.

  • Beverly Long says:

    I would love to vol­un­teer my ser­vices in any way pos­si­ble. Please con­tact me via email and let me know what I can do. This project is amaz­ing and long over due. Thank you ALL.

  • Lydia Sadler says:

    I doubt this is tax­pay­er mon­ey. Why do you think this is a waste? We as peo­ple need this infor­ma­tion.

  • Roy Jones says:

    I did some research into the claim about Antho­ny John­son being the “first legal slave own­er in Amer­i­ca” and found it to be his­tor­i­cal­ly base­less.

    Records exist show­ing that slaves were pur­chased and claimed as legal prop­er­ty in the Vir­ginia colony before Antho­ny John­son’s arrival in Amer­i­ca.

    John Rolfe, who was the recorder-gen­er­al of the Vir­ginia colony, wrote in the colony’s offi­cial chron­i­cle about the arrival and pur­chase of the first African slaves in the Vir­ginia colony in 1619, 36 years before John­son’s law­suit was set­tled in court:

    “About the lat­ter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the bur­den of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Com­fort, the Coman­dors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Mar­maduke an Eng­lish­man. They mett with the Trea­sur­er in the West Indyes, and deter­mined to hold con­sort shipp het­her­ward, but in their pas­sage lost one the oth­er. He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Gov­er­nor and Cape Marchant bought for vict­ualls (where­of he was in greate need as he pre­tend­ed) at the best and easyest rates they could. He hadd a lardge and ample Com­mys­sion from his Excel­len­cy to range and to take pur­chase in the West Indyes.”

    Accord­ing to Rolfe’s account, the man who made the pur­chase of the Africans from the Dutch ship and sev­er­al days lat­er made anoth­er pur­chase from a British ship of African slaves seized from a Por­tugese ship was the colo­nial gov­er­nor Sir George Yeard­ley and Yeard­ley’s will, by def­i­n­i­tion a legal doc­u­ment, signed, wit­nessed and deposit­ed in 1627, lists Africans — “negars” — among his prop­er­ty to be sold and the pro­ceeds dis­trib­uted among his heirs.

    Under every applic­a­ble rule of Com­mon Law, the offi­cial­ly record­ed and wit­nessed pur­chase made the African cap­tives Yeard­ley’s legal prop­er­ty, there being noth­ing in British law at the time for­bid­ding trade in or own­er­ship of slaves. In fact, the medieval Lex Mer­ca­to­ria, which was still in force and gen­er­al­ly acknowl­edged by 17th cen­tu­ry British jurists, held that slaves were chat­tels, that is, per­son­al prop­er­ty, and a com­mon law prece­dent from the time of Eliz­a­beth I acknowl­edged the legal right to own anoth­er per­son. Also Yeard­ley’s signed and wit­nessed and uncon­test­ed will con­sti­tut­ed a legal dec­la­ra­tion of own­er­ship of prop­er­ty, includ­ing slaves, to be dis­posed of after his death.

    Antho­ny John­son arrived in the colonies in 1621, two years after Yeard­ley’s slave pur­chas­es, and became a free man some­time after 1625. The court case resolv­ing his dis­pute over the own­er­ship of a slave was­n’t decid­ed until 1655, long after the first record­ed sales of slaves in Vir­ginia.

    Antho­ny John­son might have been the first per­son in the Vir­ginia colony to have a dis­pute involv­ing own­er­ship of a slave set­tled in his favor in court but that does­n’t make him the “first legal slave own­er” because the his­tor­i­cal record clear­ly shows that oth­er slaves had been bought and sold and for­mal­ly record­ed and claimed as legal prop­er­ty in the colony and used for labor years before John­son gained his free­dom and became a landown­er and slave­hold­er him­self.

  • susan shaffer says:

    do DNA. REc­om­mend doing it with Ances­try. You will be able to find rel­a­tives.

  • Ed Noybd says:

    I’d glad­ly trans­fer my tax mon­ey that is being spent to make crony wall build­ing con­trac­tors and pri­vate pris­ons own­ers rich off of peo­ple of col­or to fund this effort.

  • Delia says:

    Mrs. Bar­bara , I can relate to this also, nobody would tell me nor my moth­er who my father was. Till this day those whom are still alive and no . Still keeps it a very well kept 62 yrs old secret. So just no they did it back then. My sib­lings no there father. I’m the only one who doesn’t no. And also I too was throw away in the woods. Found by my mother’s old­est sis­ter. She took me home with her. And nev­er gave me back. Nor did I want to go back. . They had a pla. But God had oth­er plans. And I’m still here . With my own 3 adult chil­dren. They each no there daddy’s.

  • JLMartin says:

    Yes, we nev­er hear that not all of us “African” Amer­i­cans are from Africa. There are “abo­rig­i­nal” native amer­i­cans that were here, born free, liv­ing their best life way before the slave ships land­ed. What the Euro­peans did was what they did to the “native” Amer­i­cans: killed them off, dis­eased them, took them to Europe to enslave them, sold them from Africa as slaves and hid their his­to­ry! I just got wind of this & did­n’t even learn this in col­lege black his­to­ry class! WTH? Also help me under­stand why the “Mor­mons” have all this infor­ma­tion on African Amer­i­can Lin­eage and not the U.S.Govt or the new African Amer­i­can Muse­um in DC? p.s. Don’t for­get to research the Dawes Files in you research!

  • Crystal Bradley t says:

    I will li to find out who is my miss­ing ances­tors

  • Georgina Rybitski says:

    I have a friend that has very much paper work from 1800hundreds on slav­ery, names how much the slaves where sold for the buy­ers their sizes where the they where from let­ters from gen­er­al Lee and oth­ers offi­cial’s you can call me at 3155902861 here is a pho­to of a let­ter for one.

  • Rebecca A. Nolan says:

    Thank you for your hard work, but how­ev­er, I do not under­stand why I, as an ADOS, need to pay for my ances­tors names or what they did. My lin­eage was ripped from us. Research­ing our ances­tors should not have a price tag like Ancestry.com.

  • lueirether Jackson says:

    i am try­ing to locat­ed my great-great par­ents, har­ry smith and eve smith, live in atta­la coun­ty, mis­sis­sip­pi, near the big black riv­er. they were born slaves their daugh­ter was name emma smith born feb 1879 in atta­la coun­ty mis­sis­sip­pi, i found her par­ents name on her death cer­tifi­cates, so far i search the archives, and the 1870 cen­sus not lucky at all. if any­one can help me locate them that would be beau­ti­ful, but i do know that if har­ry and eve were slaves, dur­ing the 1870 they prob­a­bly would not been count­ed in the cen­sus.

    thank you
    lueirether jack­son

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