FamilySearch Has Digitized Freedmen’s Bureau Records for South Carolina
Social networks are abuzz today with the happy news that FamilySearch has digitized all 106 rolls of the microfilm series Records of the Field Offices for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1872 (NARA Micropublication M1910). This new collection of 118,737 images, which spans the years 1865-1872, is one of the most significant for tracing formerly enslaved ancestors in South Carolina, and its digitization is perhaps the most significant event for South Carolina researchers this year.
Accessing and Navigating the Records
Below are steps for identifying the records within the new collection that are of interest for your research.
Step 1 ~ Determine Which Office or Subordinate Field Office Was Nearest to the Location(s) You Are Researching
Bvt. Maj. Gen. Rufus Saxton, who directed the “Port Royal Experiment,” was appointed Assistant Commissioner for South Carolina in 1865. By 1867, several sub-districts had been created with Sub-Assistant Commissioners responsible for operations in their assigned locations. Sub-districts contained one or more Field Offices. The records within M1910 are arranged by Field Office, so it’s important to know which Field Offices were closest to your area of interest.
Field Office locations in South Carolina were:
- Abbeville courthouse (agent)
- Aiken (subassistant commissioner–bureau district of Anderson)
- Aiken (subassistant commissioner–Edgefield district)
- Anderson courthouse (acting subassistant commissioner–Anderson district)
- Barnwell (subassistant commissioner–Barnwell district)
- Beaufort (contraband department)
- Beaufort (hospital)
- Beaufort (subassistant commissioner)
- Berkley district
- Camden (subassistant commissioner)
- Charleston (health department superintendent)
- Charleston (hospitals)
- Charleston (subassistant commissioner–6th subdistrict)
- Cheraw (agent)
- Chester (subassistant commissioner)
- Columbia (acting assistant commissioner–District of Columbia)
- Columbia (hospital)
- Combahee Ferry (agent)
- Darlington (acting assistant commissioner)
- Darlington (acting assistant surgeon)
- Darlington (subassistant commissioner)
- Fairfield district
- General collecting agent (Columbia, SC)
- Georgetown (hospital)
- Georgetown (subassistant commissioner)
- Grahamville (agent)
- Greenville (subassistant commissioner)
- Hilton Head
- Horry district (erroneously catalogued as Honey district)
- Hopkins Turnout (acting assistant surgeon)
- Johns Island (acting assistant surgeon)
- Kingstree (subassistant commissioner)
- Laurensville (subassistant commissioner)
- Legareville (acting assistant surgeon)
- Manning (agent)
- Marion (subassistant commissioner)
- Moncks Corner (subassistant commissioner)
- Mount Pleasant (acting subassistant commissioner)
- Newberry (agent)
- Orangeburg (acting subassistant commissioner)
- Orangeburg (hospital)
- Rice Hope Plantation
- Richland district
- St Paul’s Parish
- Summerville (hospital)
- Summerville (subassistant commissioner)
- Sumpter (acting subassistant commissioner)
- Union district
- Unionville (subassistant commissioner)
- York district
Step 2 ~ Use the Reel Guide (Descriptive Pamphlet) to Select Records You Wish to View
Once you have identified the Field Offices of interest to your research, you are ready to view the reel guide (descriptive pamphlet) to select the microfilm reels you wish to view.
The reel guide (descriptive pamphlet) for NARA M1910 provides an in-depth look at what each of the 106 microfilms contains.
The descriptive pamphlet is the first microfilm in the collection on FamilySearch. If you would like to keep the descriptive pamphlet open in another window, download it for offline use or search the guide, you can access it in pdf format here in our research library.
Below is an example of a page within the reel guide (please click on the image to view larger). At the top of the page is the information for reels 62 and 63, Berkeley District. The guide describes the contents of each reel and how the records are arranged, then follows detailed information about specific record types.
The order the records are listed in is the order in which they appear on the microfilm.
Hint: Reading the reel guide thoroughly can enhance your research in a number of ways. The guide presents a detailed history of the operations and organization of the Freedmen’s Bureau in various regions of South Carolina. Knowing the history of operations in your research area can help you pinpoint records of interest you might otherwise overlook.
A close reading of the reel guide can also alert you to records you may want to view that may not be apparent from perusing the record titles alone. By reading the reel guide closely, we stumbled upon a treasure – Reel 9 of the collection contains a 90-page ledger of Freedmen and planters who received rations in every sub-district in South Carolina. As the volume is within records titled “Medical Officer,” we would not have discovered this volume by perusing record titles.
Step 3 ~ Accessing the Digitized Collection
After you have identified the reels of interest to you, you are ready to access the records and dive into your research! You can access the collection here on FamilySearch (link opens in a new window so you can keep this page open as well).
The collection is not yet indexed, but you can read each reel frame-by-frame anytime, right from home. We hope this quick guide will help you identify records of interest and navigate the new collection! Next, we will look specifically at different record types within this collection, and the information they contain. Happy ancestor hunting from the crew at Lowcountry Africana!