Freedmen's Bureau Record Types

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Freedmen’s Bureau: Record Types from the Glossary of the Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Field Offices…


  • Letters Sent. Volumes containing copies of outgoing communications and usually including letters and telegrams and reports made to superior officers.
  • Press copies of letters sent. Volumes containing exact copies of outgoing communications. The copies were made by wetting the original letter and pressing it against a piece of blotter-like paper.Although press copies were often made at the time the communication was dispatched and then used to copy the letter into the volumes of letters sent, among the Bureau records they are frequently the only copies of the outgoing communications of many officers.
  • Endorsements. Volumes containing copies of endorsements sent and Sometimes of endorsements received as well. Instead of writing a letter in reply to an incoming communication, officials frequently wrote replies or forwarding statements on the communication. They then either returned the letter with the endorsement to the sender or forwarded it to another officer. These replies or "endorsements" were copied into volumes along with a summary of the incoming communication.
  • Registers of letters received. Volumes in which incoming communications were entered. Registers usually include the date the letter was received, the date it was written, the name and office of the writer, the place from which the letter was written, a summary of the contents of the letter, and the entry number assigned the letter.
  • Letters received. Incoming communications, usually consisting only of letters, but sometimes including reports and orders.
  • Unregistered letters received. Communications not entered in the registers.


  • General orders. Orders usually pertaining to administrative matters that affected policy
  • Special orders. Orders pertaining to specific subjects, usually personnel matters. Special orders relieved officers of duty, assigned them to duty, transferred them to other positions, granted leaves of absence, or ordered officers to perform special assignments. They also restored abandoned property to former owners.
  • Circulars. Issuances relating mainly to administrative policies, although some also pertain to personnel assignments.


  • Land reports. Statistical reports usually submitted on a printed form listing the abandoned or confiscated lands Bureau officers held. The reports usually give the name of the former owner; the county in which the property was located; the boundaries of the property; when and how the Bureau acquired the property; when and how the Bureau lost the property; whether the property was abandoned or confiscated; the total acreage of the property; the acreage under cultivation, cleared, or wooded; and the number and kinds of buildings on the property.
  • Operational reports. Narrative reports of Bureau operations for a stated time period. These reports frequently give information about the economic and social conditions in the area in which the officer was stationed, the attitudes of the white populace toward the freedmen, and the quality of education offered the freedmen.
  • Personal reports. Narrative accounts in which the officer reported where he was stationed, the nature of his duties, and the authority placing him at the station.
  • Reports of persons and articles hired. Statistical forms used by the Quartermaster Department to account for persons hired or articles rented by Bureau officers. The reports show the name of the person or the article hired, the person's occupation or the article's use, the number of days employed or rented, the rate of compensation or rent, and the amount of pay or rent due.
  • Ration reports--reports of rations, clothing, and medicine issued. Statistical reports submitted on a printed form. The reports list the stations at which rations were issued to refugees and freedmen; the number of rations issued to men, women, and children; the number of rations issued to dependents, to Federal Government employees, or to persons giving liens on their crops; the value of the rations issued; and the value of the medicine and quartermaster supplies issued. There are usually separate reports for refugees and for freedmen.
  • School reports. Narrative or statistical reports about the number and kinds of schools available for freedmen. The most common statistical report is a printed form on which the reporting officer listed the names and locations of the schools in his area and the societies that sponsored the schools. The officer also indicated on the form whether the schools were night or day schools and whether the building was furnished by the Bureau or owned by freedmen. The reports give for each school the "number of students of each sex, the race of the students, the number over 16 years of age, the students degree of literacy, and the number of students in geography, arithmetic, writing, needlework, and, the "higher branches." The reports also indicate how many pupils had been free before the war, the amount of tuition the freedmen paid, and the expenses of the school the Bureau paid. At the bottom of the report the officer commented on public sentiment toward the black schools. School reports from officers subordinate to the Assistant Commissioners also include a printed form consisting of 19 questions concerning such subjects as the number and locations of the schools, the number of visits of the officer to the schools, the establishment of new schools in the area, and the public sentiment toward education for black people. The report also asked how many educational meetings the officer had held during the month, what the Bureau could do for the education of the children of refugees, and how long the aid of northern charities would be needed. These reports are usually interfiled with the ration reports. Among the school reports there are also two printed forms for reporting the number and kinds of school buildings. One report called for the names and locations of the schools, the materials with which the buildings were constructed, the dimensions of the buildings, the estimated value of the building, and the estimated value of the land on which the buildings were located. A second form required the listing of the teachers at the schools, the benevolent societies sponsoring the schools, and the number of pupils attending the school.
  • Reports of sick and wounded. Printed forms showing the number of males and females under treatment at the reporting hospital or dispensary; the number of patients discharged or transferred during the week; and the number who died. The reports also show the number of beds available; the number of attendants on duty; and the total number of hospital employees under the charge of the Bureau.
  • Teachers‘ reports. Usually a printed form submitted by teachers of freedmen's schools. The reports give information about the number of pupils at the school; the attendance habits of the pupils; and the hours of teaching. The teacher usually reported if he had received transportation from the Bureau; who owned the school building at which he taught; and who supported the school. He also commented on the public sentiment toward the black schools; if there were any Sabbath schools in the area not otherwise reported; and how many pupils were members of temperance societies.

Returns and Rosters

  • Rosters of officers and civilians. Forms showing the names and stations of the officers and civilians employed. The rosters usuallv give the rank of officers and we order number assigning them to duty. For civilians the rosters usually give the monthly salary and often the date of appointment. Rosters also often how the date of discharge or transfer.
  • Reports of changes of officers and civilians. Reports listing the officers’ and civilians assigned to or discharged from the staffs of the Assistant Commissioner. The reports are similar to the rosters except that they list only those people assigned or ‘appointed and discharged or relieved during the month, not the entire staff.
  • Reports of attendants employed by medical departments. Forms listing attendants employed at hospitals and dispensaries. They give the names and occupation of attendants, the date of the contract, by whom the contract was made, the salary per month, and remarks indicating whether the attendant was discharged during month.
  • Morning reports of hospitals. Forms showing the number of patients at last report, the number admitted since, the number deserted, the number died, and the number remaining in the hospital. The reports also often show the numbers of beds occupied and available at the hospital.
  • Returns of Bureau or Quartermaster property. Forms listing the kinds and amount of Bureau or Quartermaster property in the possession of the reporting officer.
  • Accounts current. Forms used to account for Bureau funds. Usually included are abstracts of receipts and expeditures, vouchers, and other related papers.
  • Receipt rolls of hired men. Forms similar to a payroll. The receipt roll gives the names, occupations, periods of service, and rates of par of individuals hired by the Bureau.

Claims Records of Disbursing Officers

  • Registers of claimants. The registers were compiled by the disbursing officers and usually give the name of the claimant; the company and regiment of the soldier; the date the money was received from the Chief Disbursing Officer; the amount due the claimant; the date and place the claim was paid; and by what claimant was identified.
  • Lists of claimants. "Lists" received from the disbursing officer in Washington. They are printed forms giving the name of the soldier or his heirs; the rank, company ,and regiment of the soldier; the name and residence of the agent; the number and amount of the Treasury certificate; ‘the fees due the agent; the advances paid the agent; and the amount to be paid the claimant.
  • Confidential lists. Forms received from the Washington office of the Freedman's Branch and used by the disbursing officers to identify claimants. The forms used in 1872 and 1873 list more than one name, but later each "list" referred to only one soldier. Both forms were compiled from records in the Office of the Adjutant General and included such information as the soldier's name, rank, company and regiment; the soldier's place of birth and age and occupation at date of enlistment; place and date of the soldier's enlistment; and descriptive information such as the soldier's eye and hair color and complexion.
  • Memorandums of examination of claimants. Forms used by the disbursing office during interviews with claimants. The questions on the form are similar to the information supplied in the "confidential list" and were apparently used to verify the claimants identity.

Other Records

  • Station books of officers and civilians. Volumes showing officers and civilian employees’ names, stations, and occupations and rank or salary of officers or civilians on the staffs of the Assistant Commissioners. The books also give the order –number assigning the officer to duty or the date of the civilian's appointment and the order number relieving them of duty.
  • Labor contracts. Contracts between freedmen and employers, usually farmers or plantation owners, witnessed by Bureau officers. Most of the contracts indicate the period of service, the rate of wages, and the type of work to be performed.
  • Indentures. Terms of apprenticeship or indenture of freed people.
  • Registers of labor contracts. Registers kept by officers subordinate to the Assistant Commissioners. The registers usually give the date of the contract, the names of the contracting parties, and the rate of wages.
  • Registers of complaints. Registers kept by officers subordinate to the Assistant Commissioners. The "complaints" relate to problems which freedmen brought to the officer's attention. Many of the registers simply list the name or names of the freedmen and the nature of the complaint, but others also give a synopsis or summary of the case.
  • Registers of marriages. Registers kept by officers subordinate to the Assistant Commissioners. Most registers give 'the names of the couple and the date the marriage was registered. Many registers also give information about previous marriages, the number of children from previous marriages, and the ministers who performed the ceremony.
  • Registers of claimants--bounty registers. Registers usually kept by claims agents. While most of the claims were for bounties, some were also for commutation of rations, back pm’, or pensions. The registers usually give the claimant's name; the soldier's rank, company, and regiment; the nature of the claim, and information about the payment of the claim.
  • Oaths of office. Oaths required by an act of Congress approved July 2, 1862 (12 Stat. 502), of persons elected or appointed to any office under the Government of the United States.

Source:Elaine Everly, Willna Pacheil, comps. Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. (Record Group 105) National Archives and Records Administration. General Services Administration, 1973. Glossary