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Dev Technology Supports the Smithsonian in the Preparation for Transcribing Historic Records

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) plans to fully transcribe and make keyword searchable almost 2 million records documenting the Federal Government’s efforts to help formerly enslaved individuals make the transition to freedom and citizenship through the Freedman’s Bureau. The information in these records will provide a unique view into social conditions in the south at the end of the war and enable many families to trace their ancestry beyond 1870 for the first time. This will mark the first time historians will be able to have statistics about this time period and the experience of freed slaves becoming citizens. Dev Technology is supporting this effort through data analysis and preparing images for transcription. The Smithsonian invites everyone to take part in this historic effort by transcribing documents online.

Image of a scanned document.
A sample view of a page ready for transcription by online volunteers.

The Freedmen’s Bureau was responsible for aiding four million formerly enslaved individuals and hundreds of thousands of impoverished Southern whites. The Bureau provided food, clothing, medical care, and legal representation; promoted education; helped legalize marriages; and assisted African American soldiers and sailors in securing back pay, enlistment bounties and pensions. The Bureau promoted a system of labor contracts to replace the slavery system and helped to settle freedmen and women on abandoned or confiscated land.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project will transcribe word-for-word every document in the collection of nearly 2 million records. These handwritten records include letters, labor contracts, lists of food rations issued, indentures of apprenticeship, marriage and hospital registers, and census lists. When this project is complete, every document in the collection will be keyword searchable, allowing anyone to search for a name, place, or topic and to read the full document and connect it to other related documents.

These documents provide new information about the social conditions of the south and the lives of newly freed individuals at the end of the war. They provide truly unique insight to where these individuals were at the moment they were freed. Digitizing these documents will make them available to the public as an important resource for learning about this time in history and will provide families with new and important information on their ancestry. Currently, many African Americans researching their family history cannot find any information prior to1870. The Freedman’s Bureau documents will help families to trace their history beyond this “wall” that so many hit during their research. Family historians, genealogists, students and scholars around the world will have easy online access to these records.

For the past year, Dev Technology has been supporting the Smithsonian NMAAHC in its effort to digitize these historic images. Dev Technology supported the Smithsonian NMAAHC in developing a plan for how to provide the images to be transcribed through the Smithsonian transcription center and led a pilot of a set of images. This initial launch included over 300 pages from the Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of North Carolina. The next phase of the project will continue to add documents to the Transcription Center where they can be transcribed online by volunteers.

With almost 2 million individual records in the collection, the Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project will be the largest crowdsourcing project ever sponsored by the Smithsonian. To make this project a success, the Smithsonian needs volunteers across the country. Start transcribing documents today by visiting the Freedman’s Bureau Project at the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Documents are being added, so continue to check back for new projects.