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Juliet's Genealogical Gems

The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company: Registers of Signatures of Depositors
By Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.

The registers are extremely valuable for locating African Americans and are contained in the Records of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, (Record Group 101). They are a rich genealogical source. Because each account applicant was required to provide specific information, these registers are often researcher gold mines. Each entry contains genealogical information, although the amount varies by depositor. If you suspect an individual, ancestor, or collateral relative deposited money in the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company (Freedman's Bank), you must examine these records. As an independent entity, the Freedman's Bank was established and incorporated March 3, 1865 in Washington, DC. The bank was not directly supervised by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen's Bureau). The Freedman's Bank was organized to benefit freed slaves, former military employees, and United States Colored Troops. Military personnel could deposit their savings, salary, or bounty pay.

The National Archives houses the registers, as part of Microfilm Series M 816. This microfilm series captures information contained in 55 volumes of depositors in 29 Bank branches from 1865-1874. You can also access these records through the Family History Library.

Microfilm records exists for Huntsville and Mobile, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; Washington, DC; Tallahassee, Florida; Atlanta, Augusta, and Savannah, Georgia; Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana; Baltimore, Maryland; Columbus, Natchez, and Vicksburg, Mississippi; St. Louis, Missouri; New York, New York; New Bern, Raleigh, and Wilmington, North Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Beaufort and Charleston, South Carolina; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; and Lynchburg, Norfolk, and Richmond, Virginia. The registers are arranged alphabetically by state, then city, then by date an account was opened, and finally by account number. Many account numbers are missing, a few are out of sequence, and in some, blocks of numbers remained unused.

Account application forms include space for the depositor's name, entry date, birth place, place where brought up, residence, age, complexion, occupation, employer's name, spouse, children, parents, siblings, including half brothers and sisters, remarks, and signature. Because husbands and wives may be named, a couple without a recorded marriage can be located. Many registers provide the wife's maiden name or you may be able to infer it from other given information. Many depositors signed their names. Others made a mark. Such notation gives the researcher clues to the account holder's literacy level.

Military units, schools, churches, and other organizations may be listed. A few White individuals are included in the registers. Some accounts give the depositor's first, middle, and surname. Such detailed information is useful in distinguishing one individual from another, discovering full given names when only initials are known, and showing family naming patterns. A remark's line may include individuals eligible to remove money from the account or a depositor's Civil War military unit. In the remark's space, depositors frequently named the city residence of nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, and whether they were living or dead. You may find a plantation and a former slave owner's name.

For many researchers, these records lead to specific information on ancestors and collateral relatives for the critical period just after the Civil War. For others these accounts are extremely useful in finding general information and new research leads.

A New Orleans, Louisiana Freedman's Bank record can be viewed by clicking on Edward Major.

Copyright ©2001 by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.   Reprints require approval by the author. 

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