Once the Civil War ended and reconstruction started, people began picking up the pieces and surveying their losses. This was not only for those aligning with the South, but also people who supported the North. There were many who lived in the southern United States who remained loyal to the federal government.
Since the beginning of our government, people have presented their grievances to the federal government and submitted claims. Between 1789 and 1946 almost 2,500 cubic feet of private claims records were created and this includes over 500,000 private claims between 1789 and 1909. Genealogists often overlook these claims which usually include family information. Indexing to these unpublished records can be found at the Library of Congress, American Memory Project, http://memory.loc.gov. On the opening page, click on "Government, Law" and then enter "private claims" in to the search box on that web page.
In 1871 the Southern Claims Commission was established to receive, review and consider claims submitted by Southern Unionists. The citizens filing the claims had either suffered loss when supplies were confiscated or they had supplied items to the Union Army for which they wished to be compensated.
An amazing 22,298 claims were presented before the Southern Claims Commission between 3 March 1871 and 3 March 1873. The claims for property loss totaled $60,258,150.44. Only 7,092 claims were approved and the total amount was $4,636,920.69. The states reflected in these records are Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
The case files typically contain a petition, testimony of the claimant or a witness, report prepared by the commissioners and miscellaneous papers. Even the disallowed claims are full of information that can be helpful to genealogists.
To determine if your ancestor filed a claim, you need to determine where they were living during the Civil War. Even if you do not know their loyalty during the Civil War, it is a good idea to check the records if they were living in any of the twelve states involved. To find out if they filed a claim, you will need to check the Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioner of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871 to 1880, compiled under the supervision of J.B. Holloway. This is often found as a reference book in major libraries and is also available in the following National Archives microfilm:
P2257, Part 1, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives: Southern
Claims Commission, 1871-1880
M87 - roll 14, Records of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims
M1407, first 4 fiche, Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880
When you have determined if your ancestor filed and in which state, you can use either of the two references:
Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission by Gary B. Mills (lists all claimants in alphabetical order, information on state and county, claim number, year, status, report and office numbers)
Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War Damage Claims Filed Before the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880 by Gary B. Mills
Of these two books, the first is available on interlibrary loan from the St. Louis County Public Library, St. Louis, Missouri. There is a copy in their National Genealogical Society book collection that circulates. To obtain more information on this process, go to their web page at,
The same library has an extensive guide to locating the specific claim that you will need for obtaining information on an ancestor's claim. The following web pages are extremely helpful at this point.
Approved Claims - http://www.slcl.org/branches/hq/sc/scc/approved.htm
Barred Claims - http://www.slcl.org/branches/hq/sc/scc/barred.htm
Disallowed Claims - http://www.slcl.org/branches/hq/sc/scc/disallowed.htm
If you are researching African-American ancestry, these records may unlock doors for you. Former slaves were often asked to testify on the behalf of claimants. In that case they were asked if the claimant was their former master, whether they still worked for him, whether they currently lived on his land and to tell about any property that had been confiscated from their former master.
African-Americans also filed claims. In these cases they were asked if they were free or enslaved at the beginning of the Civil War, their occupation and residence, when they became free, name of former masters and whether they had purchased land from their former masters.
Any research that directs your attention to this time period in the southern United States, should include an investigation of the records of the Southern Claims Commission. Witnesses living where you ancestors lived may have spoken out, even if your ancestor never filed a claim. Every little bit helps when trying to locate those missing pieces.
Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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