The Freedmens Bureau and Reconstruction (Reconstructing America (Series), No. 4.)

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American History for Truthdiggers: Reconstruction, a Failed Experiment

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Records include letters, telegrams, and circular letters sent; special orders issued by Commissioner O. Howard; annual reports to the President; records relating to appointments; and letters received by the Commissioner. There are summary reports and communications from the state Assistant Commissioners on relief efforts, hospitals and vaccination programs, labor and land issues, legal issues, field office management, and other activities, as well as school reports, schedules of schools, and rental accounts from state superintendents of education.

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Primarily official and statistical, these records can contain some information on the work and experiences of particular persons at the local level. These previously filmed records should be researched for more information on activities at the local level. They provide important details about circumstances and individuals in the localities. These records contain copies of letters and annual reports sent to the Commissioner in Washington; narrative weekly and monthly summaries of problems and developments in the state; letters received from subordinates in field offices; telegrams and issuances general orders, circulars, and special orders received from Washington; narrative reports from subordinates on such topics as condition of the destitute, misuse of public stores, status of Bureau property, abandoned and confiscated lands, murders and outrages, and other areas of concern; form reports on schools; labor and personnel records; returns of medical officers; letters sent; and miscellaneous records relating to other topics.

While most of these records are summaries and reports, many, such as collected labor contracts and letters received, can provide detailed information on individuals.

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It was through the local offices that subassistant commissioners, superintendents, agents, claims officers, clerks, provost marshals, disbursing officers, and medical officers provided direct assistance to and had direct contact with freedpeople. The field office reports, letters received and sent, contracts, certificates, registers, censuses, affidavits, and other documents preserve, directly and vividly, the experiences and circumstances of the individuals involved: freedpeople, Bureau officers, landowners and employers, and others.

They contain desperate pleas for food, clothing, and medical care from rural communities; freedpeoples' testimonies about delinquent employers, continued use of forced labor and apprenticeship, violence, and restrictions due to the new state-legislated and repressive "black codes"; petitions for new schools, legal aid in courts, and protection from violence; applications for land; and marriage certificates. These records are filled with names and personal information, whether in marriage certificates, labor contracts, hospital records, complaints, relief rolls, or trial summaries.

The Beginning of the Bureau

Further, many of these records preserve firsthand descriptions of the harsh and racially divisive conditions in which these named individuals struggled to establish families, train and educate themselves, and live in self-sufficiency and freedom. This microfilm series contains hundreds of marriage records of newly liberated African Americans in the post-Civil War era collected from through first by the Union Army and then the Freedmen's Bureau in its field offices in the Southern States and the District of Columbia, and sent to the Washington, DC, headquarters.

Record types include unbound marriage certificates, marriage licenses, monthly reports of marriages, and other proofs of marriages. Record type and quantity varies with each state. Less poignant, but equally important, are the statistical and narrative reports that contain much aggregate data about the freedmen. National Archives: www.


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He was given up for adoption at birth. Any help finding these archives would be greatly appreciated! I reached out to a search angel who has not yet picked up the ball, and I have not had any luck finding information about patient records with on-line searches.

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The Freedmen's Bureau: Reconstructing the American South After the Civil War by Paul A. Cimbala

I am geographically disadvantaged since I live in California! This is not a comprehensive list. Thanks, JEH. Good luck with your research!

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