A Landmark African-American History Project Needs Your Help


If history is indeed written by the winners, then there’s a good chance everyone else will be left out. Black people have been here since before the United States even existed, but centuries of racism have erased their stories from historical records.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project hopes to remedy that problem. The project is a joint initiative from FamilySearch International, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum. By this time next year, the project will have digitized more than 1.5 million documents—but they need your help.

The organization known as the Freedmen’s Bureau was created in the 1860s to help newly freed slaves. The Bureau worked to provide black Americans with all the necessities of daily life, including schools, hospitals, food, clothing, and community. In its seven years of existence, the Bureau amassed pages and pages of hand-written records documenting the details of marriages, military service, school enrollment, loans, and medical histories of as many as 4 million Americans. These records represent a wealth of information, information that could bring modern Americans vital information about their family histories.

But these records aren’t going to digitize themselves. The project is currently enrolling volunteer archivists to help input the records’ rich data in a searchable online database. As of this writing, project members and volunteers have completed inputting information from 26 percent of 1.5 million bureau records.

“Everyone needs to know who they are,” said Diane Watson, former U.S. Representative and U.S. Ambassador, in a press release [PDF]. “They need to know something about their background. They need to know the traits that run through the lines … The Freedmen’s Project will fill in those gaps.”

For more information and to find out how to volunteer, visit discoverfreedmen.org.

Header image via Freedmen's Bureau Project.