War claims case records have always interested me, but I have never found any ancestors who filed claims with the government for property lost during the American Revolution or the Civil War.
First of all, I have to admit that this particular kind of research, to me, is almost like finding a needle in a haystack. Not to say that it can’t be done, but it will take some effort.
Why? Well, many of these records are housed at the National Archives and may only be available on microfilm, which requires an on-site visit. Second, a possible ancestor/s need to be identified.
How would I approach this research task?
First, I would begin with a family known to have lived near the site of wartime activity, not just battles, but troop movements or other events that might have caused a family to have a loss of horses, crops, etc.
Next, I’d search out town and county histories, which usually provide lots of information about military actions, to determine the likelihood of claims for losses being generated. I’d also contact local historical and genealogical societies to inquire about such activity and would probably also call the local reference librarian at the public library.
Third, I would look for finding aids, whether at NARA or some other repository, to learn what might be indexed or, even better yet, available online.
Today’s post is only covering the American Revolution and the Civil War, but claims cases were created that cover most wars/conflicts throughout American history.
For Revolutionary War claims cases, there is the Index to the Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 by John P. Butler. There are five volumes, published in 1978.
This set might be in a library close to you. Genealogy libraries of any size will probably have it, but university libraries might also have it on the shelves. I checked WorldCat and I only have to drive 10 miles down to the University of Arizona Library to access this book.
Remember, this is just the index, but if the name I am searching isn’t in it, I can cross this book off my “to do” list.
There is also the Revolutionary War Prize Cases: Records of the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture, 1774-1787, by J.C. Bancroft Davis, published by NARA i 1949, but only available on microfilm.
In my case, I’d need to head to UCLA to view the film, which doesn’t seem to be in the Family History Library.
Claims cases from that time period are much more limited in scope than cases arising in the 19th century.
Let’s look at Civil War resources.
At the top of my list for a Southern family would be Gary B. Mills’ Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission: a Composite Directory of Case Files, Genealogical Publishing Company, 1994. This book is searchable on Ancestry.
Also by Mills is: Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War Damage Claims Filed Before the Southern Claims Commission, 1871–1880, published in 1980.
By J.B. Holloway, there is: Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioner of Claims to the House of Representatives from 1871 to 1880.,published in 1892.
There is also one article i n the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, volume 75:141-152 from June 1987, written by Donna Rachal Mills, “Civil War Claims Commissions: The Mixed Commission of British and American Claims.”
These are the easiest paths to pursuing damage claims submitted during the Revolution and Civil War.
By the 1860s, there were more people and more claims filed with the government for damages and losses during the Civil War. The two indexes already mentioned are the two most easily accessed.
However, there are also a number of guides and finding aids to microfilmed records held at the National Archives.
Preliminary Inventory of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records: Record Group 109 by Elizabeth Bethel in 1957 and updated by Craig R. Scott in 1994 will help you navigate RG 109.
The Record Group Explorer for NARA shows about half of this collection is viewable online:
Maizie H. Johnson’s guide, Preliminary Inventory of the Textual Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, published in 1967, covers NARA Record Group 92. The Record Group Explorer shows only 6% of this record set has been digitized and placed online.
There are also some guides to Record Groups 56, 76, and 205, but between 0-1% of those records have been digitized.
Remember, too, that Bethel’s and Johnson’s publications are simply GUIDES to each collection, NOT an index.
For those brave hearts who welcome a challenge, there are some microformed record sets at NARA, such as Southern Claims Commission, Approved Claims, 1871-1880 for Alabama and a few other states (remember there is Gary Mill’s index), but microfilm/fiche means onsite research.
I highly recommend the St. Louis County Library excellent two-part online guide: Researching Southern Claims Commission Records: Resources and Step by Step Strategy for Finding a Claim. There is a wealth of information on the two links and well worth the time to check out the online resources.
The second website I can recommend is the FamilySearch wiki page: Southern Claims Commission, which is even more comprehensive that the SLCL website.
Locating claims case records is not a simple action. It takes some digging and might involve access to a local branch of NARA. However, these resources should get you started.