The year 1865 found many African American Civil War veterans and ex-slaves with a little money in their pockets and there was a need for an institution where they could start a savings account. The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (often referred to as the Freedman’s Bank) was incorporated on 03 March 1865 to meet that need. Unfortunately mismanagement and fraud led to the failure of that institution in 1874 wiping out the savings of many African Americans. While some were eventually able to recover about two-thirds of their savings, many never got any of their money back.
The signature registers of the Freedman’s Bank were preserved and eventually wound up in the National Archives, and in 2005, Ancestry.com indexed these records and made the index and images available to members. For purposes of identification, these registers asked personal questions of the account holder and as a result, many contain a goldmine of information regarding family structure. Names of spouses, children, parents, siblings, and even aunts and uncles can be found on the signature registers. Other information may include physical description, place of birth, residences, occupation, employer, and some earlier records will even include the names of former slave owners—a critical piece of information for tracing a slave beyond the Civil War. Here’s a sample record from Louisiana, 1867 (image 3).