LOS ANGELES —
A national effort launched Friday will connect African Americans with their Civil War-era ancestors through the release of 1.5 million digitized images containing 4 million names from the Freedman’s Bureau. FamilySearch, a nonprofit organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced The Freedmen’s Bureau Project at a news conference held in the California African American Museum in Los Angeles on “Juneteenth,” the celebration of Emancipation Day 150 years ago today.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the importance of the project at the news event and explained the records were carefully preserved and protected for decades by the National Archives and Records Administration. “We honor its commitment to the past,” he said.
Elder Christofferson was executive director of the Church’s Family and Church History Department 14 years ago when the Church announced the completed searchable index of the Freedmen’s Bank Records.
“One of our key beliefs is that our families can be linked forever and that knowing the sacrifices, the joys and the paths our ancestors trod helps us to know who we are and what we can accomplish,” he said. “I witnessed the healing and joy African Americans experienced as they discovered their ancestors for the first time in those records.”
Jermaine Sullivan, Church leader who oversees nine Mormon congregations in Atlanta, Georgia, and his wife, Kembe, both featured in the movie “Meet the Mormons,” conducted the media event. President Jermaine Sullivan called it a “memorable day for African American family history research.” Kembe Sullivan added, “I can’t help [but] think of my own three children. … I want them to know the sacrifices and have an appreciation for those who overcame an unconscionable past to give them the future they have today.”
FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of The Churchof Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced a collaborative project with the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States and the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society to index the digitized records of the Freedman’s Bureau.
“We’re calling for volunteers, specifically those that have ties to these records, the African American community, to get involved with this to help us break down this brick wall to help us overcome these barriers in genealogical research and making these family connections,” said Thom Reed, product manager at FamilySearch in Salt Lake City. Reed has his own connection to the records. “I hit this brick wall in 1870 when the first census was taken that included African Americans as citizens. If you try to go back before then, the records are scanty at best.”