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Trace your family’s history of slavery online, free

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Slave Mart in Charleston, South Carolina (Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm_shutterstock)

Millions of African Americans will soon be able to trace their families through the era of slavery thanks to a new and free online service that’s digitizing a million and a half handwritten records compiled about newly freed slaves in the 1860s, for the first time.

On Friday, June 26, it was announced that records compiled just after the Civil War will soon be available for easy searches through a new website, discoverfreedmen.org.

Thanks to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative body created by Congress in 1865 to assist slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia as they transitioned into free citizenship, a project has been launched to covert more than four million names for full online access.

Prior to 1870, when Black people were included in the U.S. Census for the first time, slaves were legally regarded as property and their names were not officially documented. They often appeared only as dash marks, even on their owners’ records. The new site hopes to break down that brick wall by releasing those records by 2016, to coincide with the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.

A Union soldier stands with African Americans on the plantation Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, 1862. Photo by Henry P. Moore, May 1862 (photo credit Everett Historical)

A Union soldier stands with slaves on the plantation of Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, 1862. Photo by Henry P. Moore, May 1862 (Photo credit: Everett Historical)

Hollis Gentry, a genealogy specialist at the Smithsonian, said in an announcement on Friday: “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.”

Gentry also said it could help people now find living relatives on their family tree, as well as records of forebears. “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.”

While records, including a selection of marriages, church and financial details as well as full names, dates of birth and histories of slave ownership have been available for access by the public in Washington, D.C., that information could only be accessed in person and by searching through hundreds of pages of handwritten documents. An impossible and seemingly disheartening task for those with a deep desire to track their family history or better yet reconnect with survivors.

Sharon Leslie Morgan, founder of Our Black Ancestry Foundation, stated that the cataloging is important for history and for today.

“In order for us to deal with contemporary issues that we have today — racism, Black boys being shot down in the streets — you have to confront the past,” she told USA Today. “The land was stolen from the Native Americans. The labor was provided for free by African slaves. The entire foundation of American capitalism is based on slavery, on a free labor market. People don’t want to deal with that, and you have to.”




8 Comments

  1. DECHELLE on June 28, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    WHEN WILL THE WEBSITE BE AVAILABLE?

  2. cupcake333 on June 28, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    cant wait to get on this website. america is built on lies and deception white folks fight to keep it quiet and in the pass, whites hate, disrepect and dont trust us , cause they know we know these facts , remember the boy who killed the 9 people last week? he made a comment that blacks have raped their women . ha is he kidding , that was proof who is effected by whites constantly covering history , 400 years later a white man is claiming we took their rights and rape their women? he has no clue what he was saying ., and who he was referring to . white folks dont teach or allow their kids to learn african america struggles , how we got here and fact we were treat worst than pigs , up on arriving here to save america from it decline , save america from the dispair whites were faceing if they couldnt get labor for free , they gave the african kings sugar , coffee , and money , and the kings gave them slaves . ot knowing they would treat them like mud., and didnt care AMERICA THE LIE .. THE LAND STOLEN FROM INDIANS YET THEY CELEBRATE THANKS GIVING AND NO BODY GAVE THEM SH..T .. THEY STOLE IT ..
    i dont even like thanksgiving because the immigrant whites come here with money yet stole the land from hard working indians. whom i believe are related to mexicans
    im so tired of history being flawed and ignorant , nobody can write a book even and get whites to buy it and read about slavery , they hate us too cause we have started to fight against injustice to from then and now who could for get how two white men SLAUGHTERED EMMITT TILL ? THAT BOY WAS BEAT SO BADLY .. and yet we cant get white kids to read that story cause their parents are scared . and embarrassed . i say put black history text books in schools

    • Likewaterforchoc on June 30, 2015 at 11:26 am

      But yet you are the same person that says that whites have done so much more for us than blacks and how Rachel Dolezale had done so much for black people. Now the white man is the bad guy? Sugarbutterbean aka Britishrose aka Honeybutter aka cupcake333, girl, make up your mind or go sit down somewhere.

  3. Daid Charles on June 29, 2015 at 12:31 am

    Nigger please

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