The Southern Claims Commission – A Treasure Chest of Southern Genealogy and History

The Southern Claims Commission (SCC) was created by the U.S. government after the War Between the States as a means to allow southerners loyal to the Union to file claims for losses as a result of the war.  Claimants had to prove their loyalty to the Union and also that their losses were from an “official” confiscation of their property by Union military forces.  Documents provided as “proof” of these two things offer interesting, sometimes humorous, and sometimes moving snapshots of life in the South during the war.

A typical example can be found in the claim of John Faith, who lived in Whitfield County Georgia – in the direct path of Sherman’s campaign for Atlanta in North Georgia.  John tried valiantly to prove his loyalty to the Union, even though he admits he served briefly in the Confederate military.  He claimed that he had been “drafted” against his will and returned home as soon as he could.  He further stated that although he had five brothers and two nephews who had served in the Confederate military, he gave no aid or assistance to his relatives.  I would never doubt the integrity of an ancestor, but it is no surprise that his claim was rejected!  There can be little doubt that many loyal Confederates tried to take advantage of the Yankees’ “generosity.”  More than one half of all claims were rejected for various reasons – not necessarily fraudulent.

SCC records can also open up a treasure chest of southern genealogical and family information.  John Faith’s claim includes the names of neighbors, including where they lived and how long they had known John, and the names of some of his relatives.  His occupation is stated and you can view his actual signature.  Other details offer insight into his daily life.  He was dressing leather when the soldiers came, and he complained when they took his horse since it was needed for plowing.  The soldiers shot his hogs and put his molasses in their canteens.  John is very detailed about the contents of his toolbox which was taken.

The files of the Southern Claims Commission are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC, but have been digitized and made available online at various websites such as Ancestry.com and Fold3.  Both are paid sites, but both also offer limited free trials.  There is an index available to check for the names of your ancestors.  Even if you’re not in the hunt for your relatives in the files, it is hard to step away from this slice of Americana, but not hard to understand why the years 1861-1865 were truly an American tragedy.

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The Southern Claims Commission – A Treasure Chest of Southern Genealogy and History — 5 Comments

  1. I am trying to trace my Grandfather’s roots. His name was James H. Rylee born in Dalton Georgia in May of 1853. I saw a James Rylee Jr listed in the 26th District, 3rd Section, Cherokee. I have been told that he was part Cherokee. I found this on access genealogy. Also saw a James Rylee Sr.in the 7th District, Cherokee, What does all this mean

  2. My Grandfather was born in Dalton Georgia, married in Crockett County Tennessee and died in Arkansas

  3. I have indian relatives. Supposedly my great grandmother was Indian and her father was on the “Trail of Tears.” The Chapmans are my relatives also and they are on a roll. This is all the same group. On my father’s side my grandmother is of Indian decent but I am not sure I should tell this. It seems John Brookes married an Indian maiden from the Powhatan tribe and Pocahontas was her sister. Pocahontas married John Rolfe and had Thomas. She went to England and contracted pneumonia or consumption and died. When I looked them up it looked like they were Algonquian. I found some information that showed that the Cherokees from the south were from these tribes and that their dialect was familiar but not the same as these tribes. The Powhatan were around Roanoke NC or VA about that time and supposedly were part of the Lost Colony. I am very interested in researching more about these relatives. I have a cousin whose name is Pruitt and his relatives were part of the Cherokee Land Lottery of 1832 in Swinnett County Georgia. Would love to learn more about our ancestory!

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