During The History Channel’s February 20 premiere of original documentary Abraham Lincoln, the network will concurrently air a custom-branded mini-series produced with Ancestry that tells stories of formerly enslaved African Americans.
In the mini-series – hosted by Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in Williamsburg, Va. – genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith interviews descendants of formerly enslaved people in the U.S. Sewell-Smith and the show’s producers referred to documents collected in the Freedmen’s Bureau to help build these histories. Each story bears a connection to President Abraham Lincoln, who was President of the United States during the Civil War and who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.
“We’re delighted to again work with Ancestry on this important and compelling content that illuminates African-American history,” said David DeSocio, executive vice president, ad sales marketing and partnerships, A+E Networks, in a statement. “This partnership speaks to the hearts of audiences, showcases Ancestry and A+E’s values, and most importantly, invites viewers to take action and embark on a journey of exploration to uncover their own family stories.”
“Free access to the Freedmen’s Bureau collection will enable meaningful Black family history discoveries for generations to come,” saidSewell-Smith, also in a statement. “Finding your ancestors’ names and stories on Ancestry is possible and unearthing them can shine a light that helps guide us going forward. Learning about the resiliency of those who came before us and the obstacles they overcame inspires us to know we can do the same.”
History also will debut another documentary, Black Patriots: Heroes of the Civil War, on February 21. Both documentaries are airing in celebration of Presidents Day and of Black History Month.
Ancestry recently unveiled the world’s largest digitized and searchable collection of Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank records to date, with more than 3.5 million records available for everyone to search for free at Ancestry.com/Freedmens. This collection is likely the first time newly freed African Americans would appear in records after Emancipation, and these records inform some of the stories explored in the custom branded mini-series, including:
—The New Lincolns – Many formerly enslaved people were either without a last name or identified by the last name of their former owners. After the Emancipation, some recently freed persons chose “Lincoln” as a surname, in part to honor the president who championed their freedom, but also as a statement about liberty and the reclamation of dignity and humanity.
—The United States Colored Troops – Freedom was fought for in part by those who were formerly enslaved, beginning with the first Kansas Colored Infantry in 1862 that would later become the 79th regiment of the United States Colored Troops. Supported by the Freedmen’s Bureau records, this story highlights the enlisted men’s efforts to bring about freedom, democracy and equality.
—The Emancipation of Washington, D.C. – The Compensated Emancipation Act was the very first act of emancipation that effectively freed 3,100 enslaved Americans in the nation’s capital while it compensated owners up to $300 for each freeperson. This 1862 legislation freed many people months before the Emancipation Proclamation.
The custom Ancestry branded mini-series will air during the History Channel’s three-night documentary event, “Abraham Lincoln” premiering Sunday, February 20 and during the broadcast of the new one-hour documentary, “Black Patriots: Heroes of the Civil War” on Monday, February 21. The Ancestry mini-series also will be featured across The History Channel’s digital and social platforms.
Ancestry worked with The Content Collective, the entertainment and content marketing division of Omnicom Media Group and OMD, to negotiate and structure the History Channel partnership. A+E partnered with production team HollandWestProductions, LLC to bring the mini-series to life.