United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Selected Series of Records Issued by the Commissioner.

What is it? Describe its form and contents


This is a collection of letters, endorsements, and special orders sent and received by the Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau (O. Otis Howard).  All of the documents are dated after the civil war, during the reconstruction period, up until 1872.  They are stored in microfilm format, in the Bowdoin College Hawthorne-Longfellow Public library.


When was it made? By Whom? Why?


The original documents are a series of documents made by the Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, General O. Otis Howard, during the reconstruction period.  The Microfilm itself was made in 1934 by the National Archives Microfilm Publication committee, in an effort to preserve this rich history, and make the information accessible to more people.


Who appears in it?


The main character is General O. Otis Howard and his assistant general.  All of the documents were either made by Howard, or made for him.  The president also appears in the volumes, as part of an annual report made by Howard. The freedmen appear in it extensively, as the topic of conversation.


How is it organized?


Firstly, there is a 4-5 page preface from the National Archives explaining what the material is, and how it is grouped.  There are 7 volumes of letters, telegrams, etc that were sent by the commissioner and assistant general.  Of the 7 spools of microfilm, All 7 have letters sent, 6 contain endorsements, 1 has special orders issued.  The original material was originally arranged by type of record, in numerical sequence  Numbers were assigned only for volume grouping purposes.


How do you use it? Does it have finding aids or supplemental material?


You use the microfilm material by getting the spools and running it through an antiquated machine known as a microfilm processor.  You have to thread the spool through the machine, after turning it on, and then center the image.  You can scroll in reverse and forward, stop, read, and even print the material that you see. You may have to zoom in and out, and change the focus.  The lady located in the office adjacent to the machine can help with finding the correct spool, and showing you how to properly use the machine.


6. Access.  It's located in the H&L library.  I keyword searched it to find out where it was, and then found that it was in the "microfilms" section (I didn't even know it existed!).  It's in the back.  There are two corridors, one that says microfilms, the other microfiches.  It's in the Microfiches section (I had to ask the librarian).  The call numbers for the films are 3040-3046, and they are all in sequential small blue boxes with the US seal on them.  You can't take them out of the library, but you can access them anytime during library hours.


What kinds of questions can it answer?


These films are great primary sources for addressing questions about what actions were being taken by the bureau, as well thoughts/reflections on the reconstruction movement (pertaining to the Bureau).  This documentation provided an in depth look of everything that was being done with the freedmen and abandoned lands, as well as an overview of what was accomplished during the tenure of the Freedman’s Bureau.