Volunteers in Orlando work to preserve the stories of newly-freed enslaved people

ORLANDO, Fla. — The City of Orlando is currently at the center of an effort to preserve a trove of precious historical records.


Local volunteers are hard at work transcribing documents created by formerly-enslaved people in the first days of emancipation.

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Once interpreted, their work will make the documents available to the world online for the first time.

Florida State Representative Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) founded the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture in Orlando where the work is being done.

“Not a whole lot of people know about the Freedman’s Bureau, which was established after emancipation to help newly-freed slaves find medical care, get education, all of the things that they were going to need to be self-sufficient,” Thompson said.

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Court reporters and stenographers from across the country converged in Orlando Thursday to help transcribe more than 1.5 million documents made from the voices of former slaves speaking about their journey into freedom.

“These letters are basically saying, ‘I want to find my mother. She was sold on this trade, or I was wronged here, or this is my land that I was sold to…'” court reporter Margary Rogers said. “These are things that are not in the history books.”

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The completed transcripts will allow historians, genealogists, students, and scholars around the world to have access to the records. They’ll also be searchable by names and topics.

“I talk to people today, who feel that they were cheated during the educational process,” Rep. Thompson said. “These are facts, and this is information that they were not provided.”

More information on how to help transcribe historical documents can be found here.

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