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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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Why Am I Indexing Freedmen's Bureau Records?


Arrival of freedmen and their families at Baltimore, Maryland - an every day scene

  • Digital ID: (b&w film copy neg.) cph 3a38182
Who said indexing was not fun?  Not me. I can distinctly remember being handed papers to extract information in the 1990's while we were in the Chicago Heights Stake. I had a small toddler. I did not understand the full measure of what I was doing at the time, but I remember the feeling I had when I worked on that project each week. I could not wait to turn in the batch of papers to ask for more every Sunday.

Indexing today

The internet was nothing like what it is today. I could not have wrapped my brain around what indexing has done for online record access today, but I get that same "good feeling" when I submit a batch. I know I am helping someone discover an ancestor.

I am especially excited to be involved with indexing for The Freedmen's Bureau Project. I have been researching since 1985, and I have overcome a lot of road blocks along the way. A year ago after decades of scouring resources, I kind of felt like I may be getting to the end of records I could actually access without extensive traveling. The desire to have access to historical records documenting my family motivated us to relocate to South Carolina in 2005 so I could get to know extended family and delve into archive records.

I learned that the SC archives held the Freedmen's Bureau records on microfilm for our state, but those records are in a file cabinet on microfilm that is not indexed.  Needless to say, I whittled away at other collections that were indexed. I had a fear that when it came down to researching freedmen ancestors I would have to live at the archives torturing my eyes and not finding a thing, but Lo! and Behold! Our friends at purchased the Freedmen's collection and made the images available for us to browse in our bunny slippers at home!  I am so grateful.

I found the field office records for South Carolina, and in a few minutes, I discovered a labor contract listing three of my ancestors on image 21 of Union District in 1866. Unfortunately discovery will not be that easy for most people. They will have challenges finding ancestors on a Freedmen's Bureau record.
So what is to be done?

Give back, have fun

We need to get involved by helping to index. In the process, we will discover indexing is fun. Oh, don't get me wrong. You will feel a bit of a challenge at first, but there are places you can learn and find help. My favorite place to seek answers to my questions is the Facebook group:  Freedmen's Bureau Project Indexers. They know how to help you, and they make things really fun. I have really enjoyed being a part of the group. I do not feel I am alone.

I brought up the indexing software on my computer tonight, and I decided from now on I would do a little extra to really make this experience meaningful to me. I want to remember that I am not just indexing names. I am bringing to light real people who had real lives and real struggles and overcame real challenges and had real stories. I am going to look for an historical record for at least one person or family each time I index. I know that this will make these folks feel more real to me.

Tonight I decided to search for people on a labor contract that I just indexed:

I could not make out the name at first. It looked like "Foard."  That is funny because that is how you would phonetically pronounce "Ford."  I had to look at the actual contract to figure out the correct spelling was "Foard." Each instance of the surname was spelled the same way, and Robert signed his own name, "Foard."  I have never seen that surname before.

I decided this one would be great to look up on the 1860 Census. I looked for Robert Ford in Christian County, Kentucky in 1860.  Interestingly enough, a Robt. Foard did come up living in that location in 1860:

"United States Census, 1860," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 February 2016), Kentucky > Christian > Not Stated > image 229 of 271; from "1860 U.S. Federal Census - Population," database, ( : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

As a matter of fact, there were a lot of Foards living in Christian County, Kentucky in 1860, so I was confident the surname should be spelled, "Foard."  I went back and changed my entries which you can tell were indexed incorrectly above. Now, I could have asked in the Facebook group, but I was having a little fun with this.

Next, I became curious about the freedwomen who signed the labor contract. They were recorded using the same surname as the person with whom they had made the agreement.  I searched the 1870 Census for people with the last name, Foard.  I found a Nancy Forad. I figured it would be neat if this was the same Nancy Foard who had signed the contract:

"United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 February 2016), Kentucky > Christian > Civil District 6 > image 34 of 44; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Nancy is living next door to a white Forad family. 

"United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 February 2016), Kentucky > Christian > Civil District 6 > image 34 of 44; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

I immediately compared the 1870 Census with the 1860 Census to see if any of the white Foards in 1860 matched any of the Foards from 1870 living next door to Nancy Foard. Here are the reasons I think this is the same family:
  • Both households have a member of the house named Robt. H. Foard who is 10 in 1860 and 20 in 1870
  • Both households have a John W. Foard who is 12 in 1860 and 23 in 1870. 
I do not think these are coincidences, but an actual descendant would be able to provide more insights. Also, tracing each individual to find a vital record may help establish relationships, and perhaps Nancy was mentioned in a will prior to 1865. Anyway, I have to finish indexing that batch, but what fun! Maybe this blog post will come up in a Google search for a descendant seeking to learn more about the Foards. 

I hope this helps you to act on a desire to get involved in the Freedmen's Bureau Project. To learn more, visit.


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