Black family slavery-era records to be digitized, available for free online

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A new website has announced that 1.5 million handwritten records of newly freed slaves will be digitized and available for free so that millions of African-Americans can trace their ancestry further back then ever before.

The records were collected from the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was created by Congress in 1865 in order to assist newly freed slaves in their transition from slavery to citizenship.

“The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom. 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,” said Hollis Gentry, a genealogy specialist at the Smithsonian.

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The records will all be online by late 2016 and are planned to be completed at a time corresponding to the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.

“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,” Gentry said.

The records include names, marriages, finances, birthdays and history of ownership of nearly 4 million freed slaves. The process of putting the documents online will be completed through the collaborative efforts of the Smithsonian; the National Archives; the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society; the California African American Museum; and FamilySearch, a genealogy site run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon church.

Volunteers to help transfer the handwritten records into digital form can be added to this site if they want to help.