In this month’s History Matters, produced in conjunction with the Delaware Historical Society, we dig into efforts to digitize the Freedmen's Bureau. Established in 1865, the Bureau collected reams of documents about freed slaves, including who someone's master had been and where they had lived. But until now, those important documents have only existed on paper.
Right now it’s documents. So volunteers are needed to look at the documents and type in the information, so that hopefully, in about a year, about four million records from the Freedman’s Bureau will be available for search online," says Flora McConkie, a regional spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. On June 19th, the Mormon Church, in collaboration with the Smithsonian and other organizations began that huge volunteer effort.
The Mormon Church has long had a strong investment in the practice of genealogy, says McConkie.
"We feel that understanding our ancestors helps us understand who we are. And that family is central to who we are. And that those family relationships continue beyond this life."
But for African Americans, it's been notoriously difficult to find out information about their ancestors before 1870. Once the archive has been fully transcribed and uploaded (right now it's 16% finished), family members will find it far easier to discover their ancestors because data will be searchable.
The partners hope to finish the project next year, when the Smithsonian opens its new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
To get involved, visit discoverfreedmen.org