Vol. 3, # 6
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Freedmen’s Bureau Records
The Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company was incorporated by an act of Congress approved March 3, 1865 as a banking institution established in Washington, D. C. for the benefit of freed slaves. There were two military savings banks, one in Norfolk, Va. and the other in Beaufort, S.C. that were merged into the Trust Company soon after it was founded. From 1865 through 1870 a total of 33 branches were established, including an office that was opened in New York, N.Y., in 1866. In 1874 the Company failed.
The Freedmen's Bureau was created not only to offer funding, but also to "socialize" newly freed slaves into American society. Under the leadership of General Oliver Howard, Congress passed legislation that was to help assure that the ex-slaves received land, equal opportunities under the law, and to receive an education. During the five-year span between 1865 and 1870, the Freedman's Bureau spent five million dollars on developing schools for newly freed slaves.
Information contained in many of the registers from the Trust Company consists of account numbers, name of depositor, date of entry, place born, place brought up, residence, age, complexion, name of employer or occupation, wife or husband, children, father, mother, brothers and sisters, remarks, and signature. Some of the early books also contain the names of former masters or mistresses and names of plantations. Other registers contain only partial information and not all the requested data is available. Copies of death certificates have been pinned to some of the entries. In those cases the certificate has been filmed immediately after the page that shows the registration of the person's signature.
The registers are first arranged alphabetically by name of State. Then, entries are arranged alphabetically by name of city where the bank was located, chronologically by date when the account was established, and numerically by account number. Many numbers are missing, a few are out of numerical order, and in some cases blocks of numbers were not used. Many registers seem to be missing. The volume for Philadelphia, Pa., dated January 7, 1870, to June 26, 1874, contains signatures of officers of societies.
An index on film has been created that gives the location and the date of organization of the various branches. The first part of the index gives the account numbers and the numbers of the rolls of microfilm on which the registers are filmed. There are no account numbers or registers available for the branches listed in the second part of the microfilm index. These records are part of the records in the National Archives designated as Record Group 101, Records of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Closely related records in the same record group include indexes to deposit ledgers of which there are 42 volumes. The ledgers are arranged alphabetically by name of State, then name of city, and next by name of depositor. As the indexes to the deposit ledgers include the depositor's account number they can serve as a finding aid to the registers of signatures reproduced in the microcopy, which are not indexed. Other related records include loan and real estate ledgers and journals, 1870-1916, arranged roughly in chronological order; inspectors' reports, minutes of meetings of committees, and a journal of the board of trustees, 1865-74. Also, dividend payment records from 1882-89, arranged alphabetically by name of city and then by depositor's account number; and letters received by the commissioners of the Company and by the Comptroller of the Currency as ex officio commissioner, 1870-1914. Interspersed among these records are legal papers, canceled checks, payrolls, expense checks, and passbooks.
The so-called signature records hold the most interest for genealogists. These records were completed upon opening an account. The forms provided thorough identification of the depositor as well as family members in case of depositor’s death. During the years of operation, there are many instances of individuals from other counties crossing county lines to make deposits in one of the branches. While the Freedmen’s Bureau was primarily involved in assistance to the newly freed African slaves, assistance was also available to war refugees and others affected by the Civil War.
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Fact: Some excellent resources on African-American genealogy research tips can be found on the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church website.
Tip: Other valuable links of interest are Freedmen’s Bureau Online , NationMaster’s Encyclopedia area concerning the Bureau, BookRags Student Essay Summaries and Citizendium’s Compendium.
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