General Collection Information
This collection contains records of marriage from the Freedmen’s Bureau between 1846 and 1867. Included within this database are marriage licenses, marriage certificates, affidavits of marriage, and monthly reports of marriage. The collection contains records from the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Using this Collection
These records may include the following information:
This collection contains a wealth of information, and is especially helpful if your ancestor’s family unit was forced to live apart while they were enslaved. Many of the couples in this collection got married after years of living apart from one another. The records contain descriptions of the couple and any children they had.
When searching the Freedmen’s Bureau records, there are a few things to consider to aid your search. First, try and trace your history back to the 1870 census. Having traceable records close to the date of the Freedmen’s Bureau records will help you ensure you’ve found your family. If you are unsure where to begin, Ancestry’s African American Research guide can help you get started: https://www.ancestrycdn.com/mars/landing/africanamerican/africanamerican_guide_2015.pdf
In the aftermath of the war, many Black people migrated to different parts of the country. This can make tracing your ancestors difficult. Consult your family’s oral history for places where family members may have traveled. It’s a good practice to also check bordering states, especially if your family members may have lived near the juncture of multiple states. Records from West Virginia will be listed under Virginia as West Virginia did not become a state until 1863.
Collection in Context
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was formerly established in 1865 as a means to provide aid to newly emancipated people transitioning from slavery to freedom. It supported more than 4 million people, which included some impoverished white people and veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops.
While best known for providing economic aid, the Freedmen’s Bureau also performed marriage services. Prior to emancipation, marriages of enslaved people were not legally recognized; the consequences of which were dire as without legal recognition, families were split apart at will. Some records in this collection predate the creation of the Bureau as formerly enslaved people were able to legally marry when emancipated.
Congress voted to extend the Freedmen's Bureau twice, in 1865 and 1866; however the program ended abruptly in 1872.
History.com “Freedmen’s Bureau.” Last Modified October 3, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedmens-bureau.
Everly, Elaine C. “Marriage Registers of Freedmen.” Genealogy Notes. Published Fall 1973. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1973/fall/freedmens-marriage-registers.html
National Archives. “African American Records: Freedmen’s Bureau.” Last Modified June 4, 2021. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau
NPR. “Slave Marriages, Families Were Often Shattered by Auction Block.” Last Modified February 11, 2010. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123608207
24 Aug 2021: Added 28,340 new records.