When Regina King started down the path to discover her ancestors, she knew their history may include some hardships. She was ready to face those hardships, because she believes “uncomfortable conversations are where solutions live.” During Regina’s journey to learn about her 2x great-grandfather, Moses Crosby, she learned first-hand about facing difficult facts about the past.
Though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, many states did not end slavery until the close of the Civil War in 1865. Regina discovered a variety of sources exist for African American ancestors between 1865 and 1870, such as court records, newspapers, and voter records, among others. Through voter registration documents, Regina learned that Moses Crosby had registered to vote in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, as a free man of color in 1867. He also had an alias: Moses Hughes. Newspaper articles document the political turmoil in Tuscaloosa County at that time and describe the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorism of the community. Regina learned Moses had been placed on the Klan’s “Black List.”
The more Regina learned about Moses, the more she wanted to know. She found further details about Moses in the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was organized about 1865 and continued to operate through 1872. These records can provide a wealth of information about the lives of African American ancestors after Emancipation. In a letter written by a Bureau official, Regina learned about the tragic murder of Moses’s wife and his narrow escape from the violent gang who killed her. These records vividly describe the violence and suffering experienced by Moses’s family at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Court records and other documents describe Moses’ later ascendance from prison to the clergy of the Baptist Church.
Regina King’s maternal ancestral journey highlights the challenges of the African American experience in the South. As Regina found, uncomfortable conversations about the past must be brought to light, and some of these issues of race translate to modern times. Despite the incredible hardships and trials that Moses Crosby endured, he found faith and helped set wheels in motion that would later propel the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, as well as modern African American movements taking place today.
Do you have African American ancestors? Check out the Freedmen’s Bureau and other records to discover what your ancestors may have faced moving forward into life after slavery.
Tips from AncestryProGenealogists:
- When searching for your ancestor, use first names, since surnames were fluid during this time and they may not be listed with the surnames they later used.
- Review each record set provided by the Freedmen’s Bureau. These include:
- Headquarter Records
- Assistant Commissioners
- Superintendents of Education
- Field Office Records
- Marriage Records
- Office of Adjutant General Records
- Claim Records
- Labor Contracts, Indenture and apprenticeship Records
- Records of Freedmen’s Complaints
- Freedmen’s Court Records
- Freedmen’s Bureau Records of Persons and Articles Hired
- Freemen’s Bureau Ration Records
- Offices were located in regions, not counties. Searching for records for your ancestor can be tricky, since they may not have gone to the nearest office, geographically.
- Reports were sent “up the line” from the Field Office, to Assistant Commissioners, to Commissioners. Review record sets at all locations.