PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Today is June 19th, often referred to as “Juneteenth” or Emancipation Day.

It was on this day in 1865, following the Civil War, that slaves in the United States were freed.

When the Civil War ended and slaves were freed, U.S. Congress created “The Freedmen’s Bureau.”

The purpose was to help and support the newly-freed slaves transition into daily life.

From 1865 to 1872, the bureau opened schools, managed hospitals, performed marriages and supplied food and clothing – among other things.

Ron Paul, with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says, “In the process this organization gathered priceless handwritten personal information on potentially four million African-Americans.”

For decades, those records were mostly inaccessible to the general public.

Now – 150 years to the day later – the descendants of millions of those freed men and women have just been given an invaluable tool to help them trace their roots.

The genealogy organization “Family Search” has announced the digital release of those records.

They’ve scanned more than 1,800 rolls of microfilm and now have 1.5 million images online for people to search.

“The extracting of approximately four million names from these records could have the potential impact of 20-30 million more living descendants to gather information about their ancestry,” says Paul.

“Family Search” is indexing the entire collection of records from “The Freedmen’s Bureau.”

Right now, only a portion has been done.

But, by next year with the help of volunteers, they hope to have all of the records online.

Samuel Black, with Heinz History Center, says, “This really adds to our program. We’re already working with the African-American Genealogical Society and other agencies interested in history and specifically African-American history.”

When the project is done, it’s expected that this will be the most extensive source for researching the African-American experience immediately after the Civil War and during the Reconstruction Era and also for ancestors of those pioneers to finally have a clearer picture of their family’s history.

Paul says, “We will begin to hear their stories and share in their struggles. The voices of these ancestors will now have their stories told.”

“Family Search” needs thousands of volunteers to help make “The Freedmen’s Bureau” records searchable online.

If you’d like to help, go to www.familysearch.org or www.discoverfreedmen.org.

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