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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in November 2013. It is an excerpt from their course US Court Records by C. Ann Staley, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Records of the Department of Treasury (RG 56) Relating to Claims
Southern Claims Commission
Following the Civil War, pro-Union Southerners petitioned the federal government for restitution of damages allegedly cause by the Union armies. On 3 March 1871, Congress created the Southern Claims Commission, a three-man board responsible for reviewing submitted evidence, taking additional testimony, and reaching a judgment as to the loyalty of the claimant.
The Commission also determined the amount of damages that were warranted. Claims were to be accepted from applicants that met the following criteria:
- held American citizenship;
- resided in a state that seceded;
- could document loyalty to the federal government throughout the conflict;
The records of the Southern Claims Commission are within federal Record Group 56: General Records of the Department of the Treasury.
As Gary Mills explained in his comprehensive work, Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission:
Within the extant case files, the materials submitted by the claimants (and by heirs in cases where an original property-owner died before the claim was settled) cover a wide range of resources. These include:
We must not overlook these valuable records when we have Southern ancestors—Confederate or Yankee loyalists. We would like to think that all of our ancestors were honest, but when a monetary award was possible some stretched the truth a bit or just plain lied. Since money was involved some individuals loyal to the Confederacy also applied for claims.
Case files of claims allowed by the Southern Claims Commission are among the records of the Accounting Offices of the Department of the Treasury, RG 217. Case files of disallowed claims are among the records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233.
Division of Captured Property, Claims, and Lands, 1855-1900
The Division of the Treasury originated in the Secretary’s Office during the Civil War. The division officially became the Division of Captured and Abandoned Property, 1869; the Division of Captured and Abandoned Property and Lands, 1881; and the Division of Captured Property, Claims, and Lands, 1885. The division was abolished in 1887 and its functions were assigned to the newly established Miscellaneous Division in 1887.
This set of records includes:
- letters (sent and received);
- registers and indexes;
- some records of the Southern Claims Commission;
- reports on claims sent to Congress; and
- registers of cases
- Maps: Captured and abandoned lands and plantations along the lower Mississippi River in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi; published General Land Office maps of Louisiana and Florida; and sketch maps of Louisiana and Mississippi; and government farms for freedmen in southeastern Virginia.
|M685||Records Relating to Enrollment of Eastern Cherokee by Guion Miller, 1908-1910. RG 75. 12 reels.|
|M502||Registers of Letters Relating to Claims Received in the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1864-1887. RG 56. 2 reels.|
|M503||Letters Relating to Claims Received in the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1864-1887. RG 56. 91 reels.|
RG 217-Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury (1775-1927):
- settled accounts and claims, 1817-1897
- settled accounts of Indian agents (1894-1923)
- settled Indian claims (1907-1923)
- settled case files for claims approved by the Southern Claims Commission (ca. 1871-1880)
U.S. House of Representatives Private Claims
Ancestry.com provides three volumes of the U.S. House of Representative Private Claims. Ancestry.com describes their database as “a collection of claims to the House of Representatives in the early nineteenth century. It contains a variety of claims, including applications for pension benefits, compensation for services provided to the government, land, and change in pension benefits. Each entry provides the claimant’s name, nature of the claim, and what action was taken by the House.” It is our responsibility to use the database wisely. As with any “index” we need to use the data provided as a road map to our destination of getting closer to the original document. Let’s take as an example the information provided in volume 3 (free access to this volume at Ancestry.com) of the U.S. House of Representative Private Claims.
|Nature of Claim:||Pension|
| Manner Brought:
| Journal Page:
|Referred to Committee:||Rev. Pensions|
| House Disposed:
||Discharged; laid on table|
What do we do next?
First of all, we need to ask ourselves if it is remotely possible that this is “my Daniel Woodward?” Obviously if our Daniel was born after 1770 then the likelihood that he received a Revolutionary pension is highly suspect. If our Daniel is known to have received a pension, it is less likely that he is petitioning Congress to grant him a pension. But for purposes of this example, let’s assume that family tradition indicates that our Daniel Woodward fought in the Revolution and we have not located a Revolutionary pension for him-we need to look at this record!
Our next step is to examine this volume of U.S. Congressional Claims. Since this is a federal government publication we will undoubtedly find it in a Federal Depository Library. To find the nearest Federal Depository Library, we can go to the U.S. Government Printing Office website.
In this instance we need to find the volume relating to the 24th Congress, 2nd Session, page 207 and carefully record the entry.
The next step is to check the National Archives Congressional papers at the Center for Legislative Archives. If any of the original documents, such as the communication addressed to Congress still exists, we’ll want to obtain copies of those documents.
U.S. Courts in Indian Territory
These textual records are located at the National Archives at Fort Worth, Texas (formerly known as National Archives Southwest Region), and include:
Records of the Northern District (Muskogee), including minute books, 1898-1907; dockets, 1889-1913; case files, 1889-1909; incorporation records, 1901-7; records relating to equity, law, and criminal cases, 1889-1910; and records relating to naturalization, 1889-1906, and to probate matters, 1889-1909.
- Records of the Central District (South McAlester Division), including “common law” record books, 1890-1907, with index; dockets, 1890-1907; case files, 1898-1908; records relating to law, equity, and criminal cases, 1890-1907; and records relating to bankruptcy, 1898-1907, and to naturalization, 1890-1907.
- Records of the Central District (Wilburton Division), including a minute book, 1906-7; dockets, 1893-1907; and records relating to law, equity, and criminal cases, 1904-8. Records of the Southern District (Ardmore), including journals, 1890-1907; dockets, 1890-1907; law and equity case files, 1892-1904; records relating to law, equity, and criminal cases, 1890-1907; records relating to naturalization, 1896-1906, and to probate matters, 1891-1907; and records of U.S. Commissioners, 1890-1907.
- ↑ Gary B. Mills, Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1994)
- ↑ Ancestry.com. U.S. House of Representative Private Claims, Vol. 1-3 (databases online). Orem, UT: Ancestry.com, 2000. Original data: House of Representatives. Digested Summary and Alphabetical List of Private Claims Which Have Been Presented to the House of Representatives, Vol. 1-3. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1853.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US Court Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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