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and Genealogical Society, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — will make available online 1.5 million historical documents, finally allowing descendants of former African-American slaves to learn more about their family roots.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

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

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Comments (67)
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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.

  • 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.

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