Governor Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia today announced that the historic Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau records, the earliest major compilation of information on the African-American community, have been extracted and indexed, and are now available online to historians and family history researchers.
Under the direction of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and in collaboration with FamilySearch, volunteers digitized the records of names, marriages, educational pursuits, work contracts, health care and legal services and other important information from the Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau. The records can now be viewed temporarily at the FamilySearch web site, and negotiations are currently ongoing to permanently host the records through the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“This project is exciting for Virginia and for the world,” Governor Kaine said. “What we have done is helped preserve the legacy of those nearly four million freedmen who at the end of the Civil War stepped out of slavery and into freedom.”
In October 2006, Governor Kaine announced that Virginia would be the first state to participate in an historic project to index and digitize the Freedmen’s Bureau records, allowing historians and descendants of emancipated slaves, freed Blacks and Black Union soldiers to access historical data, much of which was never before available. Participation in this historically significant project, as well as collaboration with key national organizations, continues Virginia’s prominent role in preserving America’s history and legacies.
Building on Virginia’s trailblazing effort, the project now moves to the remaining states in which the Freedmen’s Bureau had established headquarters. FamilySearch which initiated this project at the request of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), will provide direct administrative support for this important second phase of the freedmen project.
The Governor also announced that the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia will continue to play a leading role in helping to ensure that all of the freedmen records—Freedmen’s Bureau, Freedman’s Bank, and other Freedmen records not included in the NARA archives— are brought together into one place and made accessible to the public. To this end, the Museum will be involved in three important, freedmen-related projects:
• Collaboration with FamilySearch and other national organizations to encourage African-American participation in the second phase of the freedmen records extraction and indexing project;
• Collaboration with other national organizations in an effort to identify the freedmen marriage records that remain in the counties, libraries and other locations throughout the South; a blue ribbon coordinating committee will be appointed to plan, seek funding for, and oversee this project;
• In partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, develop an educational program that highlights the role played by three historically significant record sets – the freedmen records, the 1870 census, and the 1880 census – in documenting and identifying the freedmen as they emerged from slavery at the end of the Civil War.
“The digitization of information from the freedmen records will greatly aid students of history and genealogy in better understanding the freedmen era, commonly known by historians as Reconstruction,” said Dr. Maureen Elgersman Lee, Executive Director of the Black History Museum.
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established by the U.S. Congress in 1865 to assist refugees and freedmen following the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation. The Bureau sought to establish systems of education, health care and opportunity to support recently emancipated African-Americans until it’s dissolution in 1872.