1.5 million digitized images contain an estimated four million names of formerly enslaved people. The names were originally collected by the Freedmen's Bureau, a program established by Congress to help newly freed Black people transition into citizenship post-Civil War. Because the bureau was a government agency, the records were kept by the National Archives until now.
A partnership with National Archives and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will allow the handwritten records to be digitized and archived for public access. The effort to make these records available to the public online free of charge will coincide with the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture at the National Mall in the fall of 2016. Access to these records appropriately coincides with the 150 year anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
Paul Nauta, a spokesman for FamilySearch says, “African Americans who tried to research their family history before 1870 hit a brick wall because before 1870 their ancestors who were slaves and showed up as tics or hash marks on paper. They didn’t have a name. The slave master would just have tick marks.”
Joneka Percentie is a junior studying Communications, Africana Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies. When she is not working as an editorial assistant with For Harriet, she enjoys blogging for SPARK, singing, dancing, tweeting @jpercentie, eating, and sleeping. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org