Recent Technological Advances Aid Descendents of Slaves

Editor’s Note: The following blog entry is a guest post by Britney Wilkins, a writer for Best Online Colleges.

The Civil War stood poised to transition the newly formed country into a free nation in which slaves were freed from the Emancipation Proclamation and were thereby allowed to begin their own history.  However, many descendents of slaves do not know their familial history due to the mounting task which the federal Freedmen’s Bureau took on after the end of the Civil War.  Recently, technological advances have made the amount of massive recordings from Virginia available for the public to view electronically, listing marriages, birth certificates, and even some narratives.

Many family histories have become obscured due to the institution of slavery during the Civil War, with many families only able to trace back their history to a few generations.  The past few years have featured volunteers from the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia who spent countless hours transferring the records from microfilm and digitizing them so that they would be easily accessible by the public.  While so far this has been limited to Virginia, the group’s organizers maintain that it will be repeated throughout the South, leading to collected data from individual libraries, churches, and courts which serve to be potential sources of African-American history dating to the nation’s founding.  This has been a difficult project in the works because of the many hours of volunteer time that have been put in without any public dollars committed to the project, but it is coming along at a remarkable pace.

Virginia alone contained records of 931,268 people, statistics which have become accessible through FamilySearch, a Web site maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This particular church partnered with organizers of this project because of their extensive experience in collecting and digitizing such materials.  The Freedmen’s Bureau was created by the government after the Civil War in an effort to ease the four million slaves into society; this type of group has been helpful for the many African-Americans across the country who are yearning to know more about their heritage.  It has always been difficult for them to trace back their familial history because of the lack of accurate records which were kept before the Civil War, and many have had to rely on the word of mouth from their oldest relatives.  This has opened up one more door for many families who have been searching for this sense of belonging and connecting with their ancestors.  While many people who are avid historians or yearned to discover past links were resorted to doing incredible amounts of research only to go back a few generations, this has now been transferred over to simply typing in a name and pressing a button.  The Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau remains a timeless relic of the Civil War and the years following it in which slaves gained their human rights back which they should have always been allowed and began the slow process of entering society by developing historical records for themselves.  The Civil War changed the perception of many people around the country and was a pinnacle point in American history, leading us to where we are now.

This post was contributed by Britney Wilkins, who writes about online colleges. She welcomes your feedback at BritneyWilkins81 at


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