General collection information
This collection contains records from the Freedman’s Bank (formally known as the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company) between 1865 and 1874. Records from the Freedman’s Bank contain a wealth of information. Because enslaved people didn’t have legal rights prior to 1865, it can be difficult to track them through censuses or birth, marriage, and death records. For many African Americans, records from the Freedman’s Bank may be the first time they’re able to find an ancestor’s name outside of inventory lists included in wills and probate records of enslavers.
Using this collection
The records may include the following information:
Some records may have copies of death certificates attached.
Before you search for an ancestor in the Freedman’s Bank records, it’s helpful to first see if you can find them in the 1870 census. Having traceable records close to the date of the Freedman's Bank records will help you be sure you’ve found the right person. If you’re not sure 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.
If you’re having trouble finding a record, consider searching for different last names. A common misconception is that enslaved people didn’t have last names prior to emancipation. Though many enslaved people adopted (or were assigned) the name of their former enslaver or plantation, some did in fact have their own last names passed down from a parent—though they typically weren’t acknowledged by their enslaver and aren’t noted in records from before emancipation. It wasn’t uncommon for people to revert to their family surname or choose their own last name to distance themselves from their former enslaver.
In the aftermath of the war, many Black people migrated to different parts of the country. This can make tracing your ancestors difficult. If you can, talk to family members to get an idea of where your ancestors may have traveled to. It’s a good practice to also check bordering states, especially if your ancestors may have lived near the juncture of multiple states.
Collection in context
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was established in 1865 as a means to provide aid to newly freed African Americans 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. The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, commonly known as the Freedman’s Bank, was established at the same time to offer banking facilities to the formerly enslaved. The roots of the Freedman’s Bank date back to the American Civil War. The original purpose of the bank was to provide Black soldiers with a safe place to deposit their pay.
In 1872 the Freedmen’s Bureau closed, but the Freedman’s Bank remained open. However, between overexpansion, corruption, and the Panic of 1873, the bank was faltering. In 1874 Frederick Douglass became the director of the Freedman’s Bank. He personally invested $10,000, but it wasn’t enough to save the bank from failing. Most depositors lost a significant amount of money, if not all of their savings.
At its peak, the Freedman’s Bank had 37 branches, 70,000 depositors, and $57 million in deposits.
Facinghistory.org. “Changing Names.” Last Modified 2020. https://www.facinghistory.org/reconstruction-era/changing-names.
Freedmansbank.org. “Freedman’s Savings Bank.” Last Modified 2021. http://freedmansbank.org/.
History.com. “Freedmen’s Bureau.” Last Modified October 3, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedmens-bureau.
Huffman, Julie. “The Freedman’s Bank Was a First Step for Newly Freed Black Citizens.” Last modified June 17, 2020. https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/freedmans-bank-was-first-step-newly-freed-black-citizens.
National Archives. “African American Records: Freedmen’s Bureau.” Last Modified June 4, 2021. https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau.
Reclaiming Kin. “The Complexity of Slave Surnames.” Last Modified March 14, 2017. https://reclaimingkin.com/the-complexity-of-slave-surnames/.
Washington, Reginald. “The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical Research.” Prologue Magazine. Last Modified 1997. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/freedmans-savings-and-trust.html.
6 Aug 2020: Changes were made to improve the performance of this collection. Children and sibling's names were parsed into individual fields and age and race were keyed and added to records. No new records were added.
24 Aug 2021: Added 41,422 new records.