Posts Tagged ‘familysearch’

Emancipation Celebration

Emancipation Celebration

Familysearch quietly released three more sets of Freedmens Bureau Field Office records: Kentucky, Georgia, and this month Louisiana. Now, the Bureau field office records for all southern states  are online, free for viewing! That is : Alabama, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Sign in at Familysearch.org, click on “Browse the records,” and then type in the word “Freedmen” in the search box and the links for each state will appear. I cannot state enough how valuable these records are for African-American research during the period of Reconstruction. Alot could and did happen in the chaos of those 5 years between the end of the war and 1870.

Because they are mostly unpaged and unindexed, these records are one of the few large collections that remain mostly untapped by genealogists. The fact that you can now sit home, in the comfort of your pajamas, at midnight, and walk page by page through these records is astounding. I urge everyone to read some of the material about how to use these records and to get started. I did a post in 2012 on getting started, Angela Walton-Raji has set up a new website with resources here, and one of my favorite National Archives finding aids on the records can be viewed here.

They are still what I call “needle in the haystack” records, but when you do find something on your family, it tends to be a very big needle. Just as important as information on individuals, are the many letters and reports that detail what is going on in the community. The building of churches and schools, crimes, and descriptions of the economic and racial climate provide the important social history that can add meat to the bones of our family research. For example, the Superintendent of the Rockville Freedmens Bureau, where my relatives lived,  had this to say about the community in 1867:

The difficulties encountered in obtaining justice for the Freedmen are those incident to the opposition of a large majority of the community as well as to that of all the civil officers of the county (with the exception of two magistrates) who will do no more for the Freedmen than they are forced to, and that with a very bad grace, they also use their influence to dissuade Freedmen from prosecuting cases against white men and endeavor to counteract my influence with them—intimidation and misrepresentation are resorted to by the people to prevent Freedmen from bringing their complaints to this office, and where complaints have already been entered, to prevent them from testifying.

Here are a few more samples of the riches waiting for use in these records:

In the Washington, D.C. marriage records, which is Roll 12, you find beautifully written registers of marriage, many from Virginia and Maryland couples. D.C. was inundated with escaped slaves during the war. The registers contain lots of information on each couple.

Register Clipping

Register Clipping

In addition to noting where the couple had come from, what year they were married and by whom, and number of children, this registrar wrote interesting little notes such as,

“Grantlin is very intelligent and industrious, and his children can read well.”
“Smith is a Baptist minister, Is intelligent and industrious. Owns house and lot.”
“Roswell is a Plasterer. Has steady employment and good wages.”

Some of the comments weren’t very flattering, such as:

“This man is sad to be very abusive to his wife.”

One couple was described as “A rather worthless couple.” That really makes you wonder about what behavior elicited that comment!

Another amazing notation was this one: “Scott was separated from his first wife 22 years ago, and having heard from her lately, wishes to leave the present one and live with the first, by whom he has several grown children, but none by the last.”

First wife

First wife

This cold weather gives us the perfect excuse to start digging through these records! Please write back here in the comments and tell me if you’re found any interesting information on your ancestors in the Freedmen’s Bureau records.

On another note, my “Advanced African-American Genealogy” class at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD starts on February 17 and runs for 4 weeks, one night a week, from 7-9pm. The class is $89. I hope those in the local metro area who are at least “intermediate” level researchers will come and join us. I discuss primarily how to evaluate the evidence you’ve collected, how to ease into source citations, and I discuss research techniques such as Cluster Research. I also talk about slave research. You can find out more information about how to register at their website. The class is listed on page 45 and is class number: XE 131 6554, #3651. Please register immediately if you can, as they tend to cancel these classes quickly if they don’t have their minimum numbers! I look forward to meeting you and hope I can help you get further along in your research.


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I’ve got a few new discoveries to report. First, Familysearch.org has finally blessed us Tennessee researchers with a Tennessee death index (“Tennessee Deaths and Burials, 1874-1955“). I thought I’d lose my mind when I ran across it, and of course I stayed up until 2 in the morning with much success. I had watched for years as states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas got lots of love from Ancestry and Familysearch, and I was wondering when someone was going to post a database of deaths from my poor lil’ ol’ state! I found about 20 relevant people (direct and collateral) and have already sent off for the certificates.

Familysearch has a much more robust search engine, and even though it is rife with transcription errors, it will pull up data in those valuable ‘mother” and “father” fields. Because of that, I made an interesting discovery.

I finally found my great-great-grandmother’s death certificate–Ada Seaman. She died in 1918, and I know now that it’s her because her father was Baltimore Merriman, and the father’s field says “Baught Merriman.” I had seen this name indexed before, but never thought it was her. Why? Because she showed up on the 1920 census:

wife Ada Seaman

Wow. Gotta remember those darn censuses contain secondary information.

In other news, I got a wonderful act of genealogical kindness. One of my Holt ancestors, Mattie Holt, had been a mystery for many years. I found her on the TN census as a child and never was able to find her again. A few years, ago, I visited descendants of this family I had found  in Inkster, Michigan. One cousin remembered going to visit his Aunt Mattie in Texas. I wouldn’ t have thought to look there, but that’s where she was. I found her on the census, and I found her death certificate–she was running a funeral home, and the oral history was that she’d made a fortune in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

Her married name was May, and I found her husband George May’s death certificate and headstone, but after that, the trail went cold.

I had contacted the local genealogical society in search of an obituary to no avail. But this week I got an email from that researcher who just decided out of the blue to look for Mattie’s probate records since she was in the courthouse. Don’t you just love that?

Jackpot! She found Mattie’s very detailed will and emailed me all the goodies. Mattie in fact did have a daughter (I never knew that) and the will named her nephew as well. It also outlined her 3 marriages and gives dates and places–her first marriage was in Oklahoma.  Talk about doing the happy dance! Now I’ve got much more to follow up on. Sharon, thank you again for all your help with this.

Genealogists can be some of the best people!

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