A new initiative is making legions of Civil-War-era documents about freed slaves available to the public. In the aftermath of the Civil War, somewhere around 4 million people gained their freedom. Between 1865 and 1872, the Freedmen’s Bureau assisted former slaves in the transition, establishing schools, distributing food and clothing, helping people reunite with their families, performing marriages for those whose unions weren’t recognized under slavery, and more. 

It also created a lot of written records for a group of people whose history has otherwise been difficult to trace. Freedmen’s Bureau workers asked former slaves about their relatives, who their owners were when they were slaves, and other pertinent information that makes the records invaluable to studying the history and genealogy of African American families dating back to the Civil War. 

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project—a new collaboration from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Archives and Records Administration, genealogical societies, other other stakeholders—is digitizing these 1.5 million documents to make them searchable online. The volunteer-based project aims to make the information available so that African Americans can learn more about their history and family trees. So far, the project is only 9 percent complete. 

Volunteer your time indexing old records here

[h/t: Open Culture]