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You Can Bank on It!

piggy bank

November 6, 2019

With online banking, most of us don’t spend too much time standing in line at the bank anymore, but what about our ancestors? Banks allowed people to save money for their futures or borrow money to expand their businesses. Banking records from the 1800s can provide genealogical information about our ancestors.

The Freedman’s Savings Bank was created in 1865 to help African American veterans and newly freed slaves, as well as their families, save money. The registers of signatures of depositors provide a great source of genealogical information because personal information such as name, place and date of birth, parents, siblings, and spouse names were often included in the records. Eventually, the bank encompassed 37 branches in 17 states with over 70,000 depositors. Unfortunately, the bank failed a few years later as a result of mismanagement, fraud, and economic conditions. Access the records from the Freedman’s Savings Bank on HeritageQuest Online by using your Access Pass (Library card).

The Emigrant Savings Bank was founded by the Irish Emigration Society out of concern for the welfare of Irish immigrants. The bank opened in 1850 when waves of Irish immigrants came to New York to escape the Irish Famine. The records provide a rich source of information on the study of Irish emigration and excellent genealogical records for Irish ancestors in New York. The bank kept several volumes of records: Index Book; a Test Book; a Transfer, Signature, and Test Book; and a Deposit-Account Ledger.

The Test Books contain detailed personal and family information. The bank used this information when a depositor wanted to send money home or as an identity test (no photo ID back then!). The bank is still in existence today, but genealogy records cover the earlier years. For a transcription of those records, look at Irish Immigrants of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank by Kevin J. Rich. You can also access New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 in Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only) while visiting any MCPL branch.

Was your ancestor a saver or spender?

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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