Freedman’s Bank Records Offer Priceless Family History Tool


It was with new hope that some 70,000 African-American ex-slaves opened accounts at the Washington, D.C.–based Freedman’s Bank after the U.S. Civil War. Hopes were dashed in 1874 when the bank collapsed. The former slaves’ bank accounts, it seemed, had lost their value.

Until now. With the release in February of the Church’s Freedman’s Bank Records on CD, the records these early African-Americans made in opening their accounts became priceless.

In order to establish the freed slaves’ identity, Freedman’s Bank workers recorded the names and family relationships of account holders. This created what is thought to be the largest single repository of lineage-linked African-American records in existence.

The original records have long been preserved in the U.S. National Archives, but the data were essentially useless because they lacked effective, reliable indexes accessible to the general public. In 1990 an employee of the Family and Church History Department suggested the idea to extract, link, and automate the 480,000 African-American names contained in the records into a user-friendly database. The Freedman’s Bank CD is a culmination of this 11-year project.

The CD’s release was announced in Salt Lake City by Church leaders in a press teleconference with Washington, D.C.; news conferences were also held in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Oakland, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Raleigh, Miami, and St. Louis.

The announcement of the CD was met with much enthusiasm and gratitude throughout the African-American community, an estimated 10 million of whom have ancestors who deposited money in Freedman’s Bank. The CD is a “treasure trove of documentation virtually unusable before,” said Eric Foner, a history professor with Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies.

To purchase the Freedman’s Bank Records on CD (item no. 50120, U.S. $6.50), contact your local distribution center or order the CD on the Internet at www.familysearch.org.