Search Icon The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has prepared detailed descriptive pamphlets for each state where the Freedmen’s Bureau operated.

The descriptive pamphlets are in-depth guides to the records contained on each microfilm. To get the most from your research in Freedmen’s Bureau records, you should read the descriptive pamphlet for your state of interest. Doing so can lead you to hidden treasures you might otherwise overlook.

What’s In a Descriptive Pamphlet?

The first portion of a descriptive pamphlet details the history of Freedmen’s Bureau operations in a particular state. Here you can learn about the duties of the bureau and how these duties were divided among the various departments within the bureau.

Knowing which branches of the bureau generated records, and for what purpose, can not only help you identify records of interest within the collection, but can also help you identify related record sets and next steps if you find a record of interest.

Records Description

Once you know a bit about the bureau’s operations in your state of interest, you’ll be ready to view a description of the records on the microfilms. Let’s look at an example from the descriptive pamphlet for North Carolina. Here we learn the various types of records for North Carolina, and we also learn that a portion of the records is missing:

Freedmen's Bureau Records Description NC


Related Records

Here you learn about other records for North Carolina that you can order from the National Archives. Reading this section carefully can lead you to research “next steps” that can keep your research moving forward, and add to the story of your ancestors’ experiences.


Related Freedmens Bureau Records NC


Table of Contents

The table of contents is an in-depth roadmap of the records contained on each microfilm for your state of interest. Here you can identify which microfilms you would like to view. A single microfilm may contain more than one type of record, as in the example below:

Table of Contents NC Freedmens Bureau Records

Accessing the Descriptive Pamphlets

We hope that this brief introduction has given you a good idea of what you will find in a descriptive pamphlet. To access the descriptive pamphlets for your states of interest, please click on each state in the left sidebar of the Research Guides page.

You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view the descriptive pamphlets. You can download Adobe Acrobat Reader here.