'Treasure Trove' of African American Genealogy Resources Goes Online 

In Depth

Paging you genealogy enthusiasts: there’s a project currently in the works to digitize all the records of the Freedman’s Bureau—a pretty major development for anybody tracing her African American roots. And you can help!

Many African Americans trying to trace their family histories have found it difficult to get further back than emancipation, because the dehumanizing nature of the institution was such that slaves weren’t kept track of as individuals, but as property. Well, Friday the 19th was Juneteenth, and as the Washington Post reports, the National Archives took the anniversary to announce that they’re banding together with the Smithsonian, FamilySearch International (yup, the Mormons), the Afro­-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the California African American Museum to put 1.5 million images from the Bureau online.

That’s Reconstruction-era paperwork that contains not just the names of millions of former slaves, but background information that could help a generational sleuth track her family further back. According to Yamiche Alcindor at USA Today, that includes “details about who previously owned them, marriage and family history, military service, banking practices and hospital and property records.” The sort of info that generally makes genealogists salivate. Sherri Camp, a VP at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, called it a “treasure trove.”

But they still need help getting that information to the point where it’s easily accessed:

But this new information is in the form of “raw records,” that still need to be organized and indexed into a computer. The Smithsonian and FamilySearch are hoping that volunteers will sift through the data and type the names into a massive data base.

“We would like to have all of the names of the Freedmen indexed by the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture,” said Smithsonian genealogist Hollis Gentry. “By the Fall of 2016 when the museum is scheduled to open.” If that strikes your fancy, go here. Beats the hell out of Candy Crush, right?

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