The man looks directly into the camera; he wears a bowler hat at a rakish angle, his jaw clean-shaven despite the fashion of his time. Thom Reed has always found that gaze magnetic and mysterious. The man, his great grandfather, was cited at family reunions as “the reason we’re all here,” but no one seemed to know much about him.
Ever since a cousin posted the photo online, Reed has been searching for answers about his ancestry, but like many African-Americans, the search has only taken him so far. Despite his best efforts, he has found himself faced with what some in the community call the “brick wall”: the 1865 Emancipation Proclamation, before which very few records exist for black America.
The first of its kind, the Freedmen’s Bureau (also known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands) was established on March 3, 1865 to keep track…
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