NARA’s Cartographic Records Branch has digitized over 100 maps from RG 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records. Read about it here: RG 109 Confederate Maps Series Now Digitized and Available Online!
The idea of looking for ancestors in records of claims against the U.S. Federal Government (or against foreign governments) would be an afterthought, at best, for most researchers. Yet, they can contain valuable data. Here’s a few examples:
French Spoliation Claims. These were claims presented by U.S. citizens against France, Spain, and Holland for vessels and cargo taken by privateers prior to September 30, 1800, and condemned at ports controlled by those countries. There are records of these claims in the National Archives of the United States. The long and convoluted general history of those claims, along with guidance on the research process, is found in Angie Spicer VanDereedt’s 1991 Prologue article, “Do We Have Any Records Relating to French Spoliation Claims?
Claims Involving Various Foreign Countries, 19th-20th centuries, in a variety of contexts. For brief introductory information, see Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations.
Southern Claims Commission approved, barred, and disallowed claims. From March 1871 to March 1873, over 22,000 Southerners filed claims alleging they had been loyal Unionists during the Civil War and had furnished to, or had materials taken by, the Union Army or Navy. These are very useful to family historians because the paper trail created by the claimants and various witnesses included relatives, neighbors, friends, former slaves, and free people of color. Their testimony provides a wealth of information about individuals living in the South during the Civil War. Get started with these records by learning more about them in the guide to “Researching Southern Claims Commission Records” on the Saint Louis County (Missouri) Public Library website.
Civil War Claims against the Office of the Quartermaster General. The Quartermaster General (QMG) and his staff were responsible for procuring all the equipment and supplies the Army needed. Generally, claims arise when mistakes happen of one kind or another. In 1901, a clerk in the office of the QMG compiled a list of 19 different claims boards that had been created during the Civil War which gave a brief description of the location, purpose, composition, and authority of each board. You can read through that 9 page list here.
One of those 19 boards was the Cairo Claims Commission. By direction of President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton appointed a commission to examine and report upon all unsettled claims against the War Department at Cairo, Illinois, that originated before April 1, 1862, due to allegations of fraud and corruption in the Quartermaster Department there. Stephen B. Logan, Charles A. Dana, and George S. Boutwell were first appointed, but Shelby M. Cullom soon replaced Mr. Logan, who resigned due to ill health. The commission examined 1,696 claims totaling $599,219.36, and approved and certified for payment $451,105.80. Most of the claims rejected were for losses suffered in active operations of the army, either from misconduct soldiers or from requisitions made by officers who failed to give receipts and certificates to the claimants, who thus had insufficient evidence to support their claims. Some claims were rejected due to proof of disloyalty by the claimant. Claims by owners of vacant lots and by the Cairo city trustees for use of city land were disallowed. A small percentage of the claims were rejected due to fraud. Charles A. Dana discusses the Commission in his biography, Recollections of the Civil War: With the Leaders at Washington and in the Field in the Sixties (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, 1913), pp. 11-14.
The Proceedings of the Claims Board Meeting at Cairo, Illinois, are online. Following the meeting minutes, they include a roughly alphabetical list of claimants that gives the voucher number, date, name of claimant, name of officer who had approved the expense, type of article or claim, amount of claim proffered, and the amount allowed by the claims board.
In conclusion…. As always, finding records in the National Archives about an ancestor requires that person to have had some kind of interaction with the Federal Government. Claims against the government are one possibility, but it will take time and effort by the researcher to locate that information.
If you haven’t tried a surname search in the National Archives Catalog in awhile, it’s time to try it again. Additional information about records, as well as actual digital images of records, are added frequently.
A search for the surname “Twigg” provides good examples of what’s been added thus far. In no particular order, there are references to persons named Twigg for which there are–
- Alien Case Files
- Personnel Files
- Cherokee Indian Records
- Compiled Military Service Records–Civil War (Union)
- Compiled Military Service Records–Civil War (Confederate)
- Correspondence (Letters Sent or Received)
- Seaman’s Protection Certificates
- Draft Registration (World War II)
- Compiled Military Service Records (Spanish-American War)
- Official Military Personnel Files
- Mentions in a roster of hospital matrons at U.S. Army posts
- Mentions in summaries of World War II casualties
- Mentions in applications for inclusion of properties on the National Register of Historic Places
- Mentions in various other records
Certainly, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Obviously, when the surname is included in the file or item description, it’s easier to determine potential relevance, than when it’s necessary to ferret out the name by searching a PDF or other multipage items. Nonetheless, it is a free resource available to anyone with an internet connection. It will continue to grow in usefulness in the years to come.
Give it a try. What might you find?
The National Archives and Records Administration will have its 2017 Virtual Genealogy Fair online on Oct. 25, 2017. If you miss any part of it, don’t worry, it will be posted online at a later date.
If you missed the 2013 to 2016 Virtual Genealogy Fairs, you’re still in luck – all the videos, PowerPoints, and other handouts are still online. Just follow these links:
On the eve of the Civil War, 1.6 million Irish-born people were living in the United States, most in the major industrialized cities of the North. For The Forgotten Irish, Damian Shiels researched Civil War pension records to craft the stories of 35 Irish families whose lives portray the nature of the Irish emigrant experience. This will be the book’s U.S. launch.
Michael Hussey, a National Archives archivist and historian, and David T. Gleeson, Professor of American History at Northumbria University and author of The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, will co-moderate the discussion and audience Q&A. A book signing will follow the program.
You can view it live from the comfort of your home on YouTube or see it in person by reserving a seat in the William G. McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC.
These authors’ research shows the truly international value and importance of records in the U.S. National Archives. You can subscribe to the National Archives Event Newsletter to receive timely information about future programs.