Project: A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson

Completing a family's unknown story 

For many African Americans, it is challenging to discover their family history due to slavery. Hawkins Wilson was born into slavery. After his emancipation, he wrote letters to the Freedmen’s Bureau hoping to reunite with his family, but they were never delivered. Until now.

01The challenge

Due to the generational and systemic history of slavery and racial injustices in the United States, family history research can be challenging for the African American community, with many believing the hurdles are too great to make meaningful family history discoveries.

02The solution

Ancestry digitized and made free over 3.5M documents from the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Civil War-era federal agency established to help formerly enslaved people transition from slavery to citizenship.

A shared reflection on U.S. history


While digitizing Freedmen’s Bureau records, Ancestry discovered Wilson’s letters and used Ancestry’s genealogical tools and robust collection of historical records to find his modern-day descendants and rekindle those lost connections. By finally delivering Wilson’s letters, Ancestry not only helped complete a single family’s story, but transformed their journey into A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson, a shared reflection on our nation’s history in a documentary film.

03The impact

A reunion more than a century in the making

A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson resonated with Americans with 2.7M film views. Our outreach efforts resulted in 1.8B media impressions (surpassing KPIs by 300%). Ancestry was inserted into national conversations while bringing awareness to Juneteenth and the struggles the African American community experiences when searching for family history.

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