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Find your roots at Freedmen’s Project & Conference
By Kathy Bence (Contributing Writer)
Published March 9, 2016
Thom Reed of the Freedmen’s Bureau Project

Thom Reed of the Freedmen’s Bureau Project, Global Communications

“Discover Your Roots,” the 14th annual conference focusing on African American genealogy, takes place on Saturday, March 12, in Los Angeles.

The conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1209 S. Manhattan Place in Los Angeles. Registration at the door is $40. For more information visit discoveryourrooots.org or call 1-800-533-2444.

Among the more than 20 workshops will be a class on the Freedmen’s Bureau Project presented by Thom Reed, who oversees global communication for the project.

Emancipation freed nearly four million slaves and the Freedmen’s Bureau, formerly known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, was established in 1865 following the Civil War to help transition them from slavery to citizenship, providing food, education, housing and medical care.

“The records are invaluable because, hand-written records of the bureau’s transactions documented, for the first time in U.S. history, the names of those individuals and their courageous stories,” Reed said. “We are where we are today because of the foundation they built.”

According to Alma Bailey, organizer of the Roots Conference, “Accurate records were not always kept for slaves and many families were separated due to slavery or forced migration,” she said. “These archives of the bureau from 1865 to 1872, that include names, family relations and brief oral histories, will help overcome the barriers to discovering our ancestors.”

Reed said FamilySearch International, the largest genealogical organization in the world, obtained copies of these records from the National Archives and Records Administration for the purpose of indexing them and making them free for all to access.

“Indexing involves transcribing pertinent information from the original records that is then made freely searchable online at FamilySearch.org,” he said. “Since the project’s launch, more than 14,000 indexing volunteers have contributed to the project and together they have indexed more than 700,000 records.”

FamilySearch has partnered with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) and other genealogical societies and institutions around the country with the goal to complete this project in time for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in the fall of 2016.

Among the community organizations supporting the project are student, faculty and staff volunteers from the Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Dr. Helen Easterling Williams, Dean of the graduate school, explained how this fits into the mission of Pepperdine University.

“The Freedmen’s Bureau Project was so worthwhile that we wanted to bring everyone together to participate and while gathering for service is not unique for us, we seldom meet outside the classroom with faculty, staff and students—where no one group is king or queen—just all working together toward an important goal.”

Williams said their graduate school set an indexing goal for the year, then they more than doubled it after surpassing the initial goal during the fall semester. They are continuing to move forward this semester.

Reed praised the efforts and progress, but said more volunteers are needed to meet the deadline. To volunteer or find more information on the project, visit discoverfreedmen.org.

In addition to learning about the Freedmen’s Bureau Project, Bailey said that the Discover Your Roots conference offers a wide range of classes for the experienced researcher or those who would like to get started finding their heritage.

The event is sponsored by the California African American Genealogical Society, the San Diego African American Genealogy Research group and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Categories: Religion
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