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“It’s really important to know not just who you are, but from which you’ve come,” said Ohio Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were in Washington, D.C., to present U.S. Rep. Fudge with a copy of her family history Tuesday, May 2, 2017. She is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, an organization representing the African American members of the United States Congress.
“I am really ecstatic about the fact that I have some more information about my family,” said Rep. Fudge. “I think that I’m very fortunate to have known so many people in my family. Most people of my color are not.”
For blacks in America, researching their family history can be a challenge since records of their ancestors may not exist prior to 1870. Last year, that search got a little easier with the completion of the indexing of the historic Freedmen’s Bureau Records by FamilySearch International, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Church.
“It really is a rare event,” said Elder Von G. Keetch of the Seventy, who represented the Church at the presentation to Congresswoman Fudge in the Rayburn House Office Building. “It takes a lot of time to go back and find ancestors and be sure that they are the proper ones in the line, so we don’t do it often.”
Carol Smith, a researcher at FamilySearch, was involved in searching through the records to help put together Rep. Fudge’s five-generation pedigree chart. “I think that’s why people look at a framed pedigree and go, ‘Wow, I’d love one.’ But once you do it yourself and you do it for yourself, you will find that those people become yours,” explained Smith.
The idea to compile Rep. Fudge’s family history was initiated by one of her Congressional Black Caucus colleagues, Utah Congresswoman Mia Love, a member of the Church.
“It’s been so incredibly rewarding for me to be able to present this to someone who’s been so kind to me since I stepped into office, just embraced me as a friend and a family member,” said Rep. Love.
Elder Keetch added, “We really wanted especially our African American friends to know, those in Congress [and] elsewhere, how much the Church wants them to be able to find their family history. And the Church has been involved in a number of efforts to do that over the course of the past several years.”
In December, FamilySearch International, the world’s largest genealogy organization, gave a newly indexed database of the historic Freedmen’s Bureau Records to the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The database contains genealogical information of freed African Americans after the Civil War. For the first time in history, African Americans can now bridge the gap between freedom and slavery.
“As we bring out records that were created for African Americans that we are able to index, it’s going to make a huge difference in being able to research this African American population where they weren’t found in a lot of records,” said Smith.
“It starts to make you realize the strength of a whole family of people, of a whole generation of people who survived and produced people like me who are now members of Congress,” said Rep. Fudge.
More than 25,000 volunteers participated in the Freedmen’s Bureau Project in the United States and Canada. Volunteers uncovered the names of nearly 1.8 million of the 4 million people who were enslaved.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was organized under an 1865 congressional order at the end of the Civil War to assist freed slaves. Handwritten records of these transactions include records such as marriage registers, hospital or patient registers, educational efforts, census lists, labor contracts and indenture or apprenticeship papers and other documents. The records were compiled in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
African Americans can access the Freedmen’s Bureau Records online at no cost at discoverfreedmen.org. FamilySearch provides billions of ancestral records to family history researchers free online and through 5,000 local family history centers so individuals can make their own ancestral discoveries.
“I hope that we’ll be able to get more and more people doing their research. It’s fun stuff,” said Rep. Love.