Exploring the Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank Records

Posted by Laura Gibson on October 15, 2021 in Uncategorized

There are many common hurdles that every family historian faces: not knowing where to start, which records to search for or where to look next, are just a few of them. Family history research can often be particularly challenging for those of African American descent due to the long history of slavery in the U.S. as well as the lack of documentation about those who were enslaved. At Ancestry, we are committed to continually adding new record collections so more people can discover their families untold stories

One such collection which may help lead to breakthroughs in family history research is the Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank. These significant records can be instrumental in helping descendants of previously enslaved people learn more about their families backstory by offering a path to trace ancestors prior to 1870. This collection can enable meaningful family history discoveries because it is likely the first time newly freed African Americans would appear in records after Emancipation.


 Understanding the Complex History

The Freedmen’s Bureau was established near the end of the American Civil War to help formerly enslaved people transition from slavery to citizenship, providing food, housing, education, and medical care. It also provided support for impoverished white people and veterans of the U.S. Coloured Troops. Crucial records in the Freedmen’s Bureau include labour contracts, rations, apprenticeships, letters, marriages, and more.

The Freedman’s Bank was established by President Lincoln and was active from March 1865-1874. As the Civil War ended, Congress and Lincoln recognized the need to aid newly freed African American men and women in their transition to freedom, and to support the land grants and other elements provided by the Freedmen’s Bureau. 


 A More Complete View of This Chapter in History

To better understand the African American experience during this chapter in history, we turned to experts, academics, and authors, like Dr Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, Assistant Professor, Africana Studies at Morehouse College, who focuses on the history and culture of African Americans and the Reconstruction Era. 

 She says, “The Freedmen’s Bureau records paint a picture of who was migrating to major cities, what type of people they were, and their economic aspirations. This narrative is largely untold in Reconstruction Era history, as those writing the history did not consider the perspectives of how Black people experienced and defined freedom. Increasing awareness of and access to this history is a key step toward a new understanding of this complex American history.”


 Exploring Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank Records

  • Before we start exploring the collection, here are questions you should consider:
  • Have you traced your family from the present back to 1870? 
  • Have you confirmed that your ancestors were enslaved or free? 
  • What oral history do you have about your ancestors?

Whether you are looking to trace your own lineage or looking to understand this period of history more deeply, it is a fascinating collection to explore. Once you’re ready to search the records, keep in mind that the Freedmen’s Bureau only operated in certain Southern US states, so you may be more likely to find personal connections if your family has ties to the areas below. 


  • Virginia (West Virginia)
  • Louisiana
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina    
  • Tennessee 
  • Mississippi
  • Arkansas 
  • Texas
  • District of Columbia
  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • Missouri 


 In this collection, you can find names of former slave owners, thousands of signature cards, as well as rich details about the individual depositors, such as name, age, residence, place of birth, and occupation.

Search the collections here – U.S., Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865-1874 | Ancestry® and U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-1878 | Ancestry®


Past Articles

Remembering John Richard Archer 1863-1932

Posted by Laura Gibson on July 26, 2021 in Uncategorized

  July marks the anniversary of the death of John Richard Archer, the first Black mayor in London; a Lancashire-born photographer, seaman, singer, political activist and pioneer who died on 14 July 1932. Archer was involved in local politics from the early 1900s until his death and became Mayor of Battersea in 1913. We explored Read More

A guide to researching adopted ancestors

Posted by Kristen Hyde on May 12, 2021 in Australia, Canada, Collections, Research

Researching an adopted ancestor can be challenging but there are steps you can take to learn more about their birth and origins. Ancestry ProGenealogist, Simon Pearce, offers useful guidance and resources from around the world for uncovering these details. Formal adoption was introduced in England and Wales on 1 January 1927 with the establishment of Read More

The Kenney Sisters and their Fight for Women’s Suffrage

Posted by Laura Gibson on April 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

We have many people to thank for the important role they played in establishing the right of women to vote in the United Kingdom. Three such people are sisters Annie, Jessie and Nellie Kenney, whose actions were invaluable to the fight for woman’s suffrage. Ancestry genealogist Simon Pearce explores their inspiring story and the records Read More

Marking 125 years of the modern Summer Olympic Games

Posted by Laura Gibson on April 15, 2021 in Uncategorized

Held in Athens, Greece, the 1896 games were the first modern Summer Olympic Games and this year marks 125 years of British athletes taking part in the sporting event.   The opening ceremony of the first modern Olympic Games took place on 6 April 1896 in Athens in front of 60,000 spectators. Although the ancient Read More

Remembering the Titanic with Simon Pearce

Posted by Laura Gibson on April 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the infamous RMS Titanic, one of the worst disasters in maritime history. Genealogist Simon Pearce journeys through Titanic’s fateful voyage from Southampton to New York and explores the collections which can help bring the Titanic’s backstory to life.   Through historical documents, you can discover remarkable details Read More