After centuries of African American slave records have been left in shadows of obscurity and questionable narratives, a major website is closing the gaps on untold parts of history.
The Freedmen’s Bureau, an 1865 government agency that was established to help freed African slaves transition to citizenship, is the mastermind behind an evolving initiative that will release handwritten records of over 1 million African slaves. The records will be registered through Discover Freedmen, the bureau’s website that details the project’s development stages. The Guardian reports that over 4 million names will be published for full access, the same number associated with how many slaves were freed with the Emancipation Proclamation.
All records are expected to hit the site at the end of 2016, in timely connection with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture debut. As of today, only 9 percent of the records are indexed. However, for those who already have their ancestors’ first and last names, a portal is available to search Family Search’s database for more information and traces back to said ancestor’s bloodline.
The California African American Museum, Smithsonian and Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society are among the diversified organizations backing the project. Hollis Gentry, a Smithsonian genealogy specialist, spoke at the project’s L.A. announcement on Friday (June 19) to discuss its cruciality.
“The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom,” Gentry said. “You can look at some of the original documents that were created at the time when these people were living. They are the earliest records detailing people who were formerly enslaved. We get a sense of their voice, their dreams. I predict we’ll see millions of living people find living relatives they never knew existed. That will be a tremendous blessing and a wonderful, healing experience.”
The records will include marriage and church details, birthdays and several other intriguing elements of African slave lives. The Freedmen’s Bureau is also accepting online volunteers to aid in the project’s completion.
Discover your roots with what’s been compiled thus far here.
Photo Credit: DiscoverFreedmen.org