A Treasure Trove of Family History
The Freedman’s Bank and the Freedmen’s Bureau did not survive long, but their records did. In a twist of fate, these records now provide one of the richest sources of information available on African American family history.
When people opened accounts at the Freedman’s Bank, they were required to provide a great deal of personal information to ensure that bank officials could locate family members in the event of a depositor’s death. Each depositor gave his or her full name, place of birth, current residence, current occupation, and the names of spouses, children, parents, brothers, sisters, and more. The records of 29 branches of the Freedman’s Bank survive today.
The Freedmen’s Bureau also kept other records and personal information on the people it helped. A marriage record can contain places of birth and the names of wives, husbands, and children (the bureau issued licenses for ex-slaves who had married while enslaved). Documents contain details on labor contracts and apprenticeship agreements. Other records contain personal information on African American soldiers, including company and regiment. There are school, court, and hospital records, as well.
These records are stored in the National Archives and available to the public. Many have been put online by FamilySearch. Families can search this website for free to learn more about their ancestral histories.
Credits for this Online Exhibition: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Learning Center and Money Museum gratefully acknowledges guidance and research support from the following: FederalReserveHistory.org, U.S. Department of the Treasury, National Archives, Operation HOPE, FamilySearch.org, Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ Monument and the Cleveland Public Library.