History Channel Supports Freedmen’s Bureau Project in Commemoration of Roots TV Series

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 8 June 2016

This photo depicts a family of freed slaves following the emancipation that took place after the Civil War. The Freedmen's Bureau Project involves volunteers indexing records of emancipated slaves.  Photo courtesy discoverfreedmen.org.

Article Highlights

  • Viewers of "Roots" are encouraged to help index names for the Freedmen’s Bureau Project.

“By teaming up with History to transcribe Freedmen’s Bureau records, we are identifying the names of former ‘nameless’ slaves. When we rediscover their identities and their heritage, the forgotten become remembered." —Stephen T. Rockwood, FamilySearch CEO

In commemoration of the premiere of its television series Roots, the History Channel has launched a campaign to support the Freedmen’s Bureau Project of FamilySearch International, the Church’s online family history service.

Initiated a year ago, the project involves the transcription by volunteers of Civil War–era records pertaining to nearly 4 million African Americans who were emancipated from slavery. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established to assist the newly freed slaves make a transition to citizenship, providing food, housing, education, medical care, and other services.

The bureau gathered handwritten, personal information, including marriage and family, military service, banking, school, hospital, and property records. It marked the first time the names of the freed slaves had been recorded and preserved.

Under the direction of FamilySearch, the volunteers are transcribing the information from digitized records. The transcriptions will be used to create a searchable digital archive that will be housed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is slated to open September 24 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The database will be accessible via FamilySearch.org.

Elizabeth Luciano, vice president of marketing and brand strategy, said the History Channel is pleased to partner with the museum and with FamilySearch to support the digitization of the records.

“At its heart, Roots is a powerful story about the importance of heritage and identity, and we believe there is no better way to honor the spirit of this story than to help African American families connect with their own family heritage by supporting the Freedmen’s Bureau Project.”

Hollis Gentry, genealogy specialist at the museum, said, “We invite and encourage viewers to help us transcribe records of the Freedmen’s Bureau and make them freely available to an audience of global researchers.”

Stephen T. Rockwood, FamilySearch CEO, said, “By teaming up with History to transcribe Freedmen’s Bureau records, we are identifying the names of former ‘nameless’ slaves. When we rediscover their identities and their heritage, the forgotten become remembered.“

Roots, based on the novel by Alex Haley about his ancestors stemming from a man who was captured in Africa by American slave traders, premiered on Memorial Day, May 31, and aired over four consecutive nights.