Friday, February 22, 2008

Southern Claims Commission Records

Southerners who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War and who suffered personal property losses, including supplies and livestock, could file a claim for damages with the Southern Claims Commission. Residents of twelve states were allowed to make claims: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Southern loyalists made 22,298 claims between March 1871 and March 1873. Claims were made based on the fact that a Southerner was loyal to the Union during the Civil War and had supplies taken by or furnished to the Union Army.

Now, while you would assume from the above description that only Southerners who had been aligned with the Union would be a part of these records; however, Southerner's loyal to the Confederate cause can also be found. As Elizabeth Nitschke Hicks writes in the article, The Southern Claims Commission, a little known source of genealogical information,

"The claimant had to answer that he/she had been loyal to the Union, and had not provided aid of any kind in support of the Confederacy . . . consider that people did what they had to do to receive compensation for losses suffered during the war. Many southerners did not consider it "lying" to "lie" to a Yankee. . . ."

These records can be an invaluable source to a researcher because they may prove to be one of the only records that can be found on a family when a county was "burned over" or may help you verify a location for an ancestor who died before the implementation of state wide vital registration (death records). It also provides yet another clue to what life was like for your ancestor during the Civil War.

These claims included the testimony of a person's neighbor testimony and the testimony of the claimant about aspects of his/her life during the Civil War. To read some of the questions claimants were asked, check out the posted questionnaires at (while this is a subscription site, access to these questionnaires is free).

There are three types of claims: Allowed, Barred, and Disallowed. In Allowed claims the U. S. paid the claim. The only record left of these claims includes the name of the claimant, residence, and the amount paid. Barred claims were those where the claimant either filed too late or was deemed a Confederate supporter. These records have the name of the claimant, residence, and a description of the loss. Disallowed claims were not paid and provide researcher with the most information.

One place that you can access the Southern Claims Commission records is through

Through the Family History Library you can consult the following resources through the Family History Library catalogue at

  • 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. Aegean Press: California. 1980 (not available on microfilm)
  • Southern Claims Commission, claim number 9404: Congressional claim number 3519, claimant: John Austin Casey of Atlanta, Ga. Editor Diane Casey. D, Casey: Arizona 1994. (FHL Microfilm #1698200 item 21)
  • Records of the Commissioner of Claims (Southern Claims Commission), 1871-1880: National Archives microfilm publications pamphlet describing M87. (not available on microfilm)
  • Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission by Gary B Mills. Genealogical Publishing Co.: Maryland. 1994.
  • Records of the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission) 1871-1880. Microfilm of original records in the National Archives.(FHL Microfilm #1463975-1462976, 1463963-1463974).

The Tennessee State Library and Archives web site,, has an online index of the 3,929 Tennessean's who filed claims. You can order a disallowed or barred claim for the Tennessee State Library and Archives by e-mailing them and asking for a price quote.
Rootsweb has an index page of transcribed 1872 disallowed claims at Each name has a link to a digitized page describing the claim.

For those researching African American ancestry, Ancestry has an article about African American claimants at

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Funny Valentine: A Genealogy of Valentine’s Day

I don’t know if you noticed it, it happened around December 26th. Out were the jolly snowmen and the chubby guy in the red suit and in was everything red. As soon as the stores took down the Christmas decorations, up went the Valentine’s Day merchandise. What sometimes seems like a holiday invented by Hallmark is really an occasion that dates back to at least the 1400’s. And for you guys who blame the celebration of Valentine’s Day on Hallmark, cards and gifts were exchanged long before Hallmark became a company.

Who was the man behind the Holiday? Well that would be a man named Saint Valentine, and some believe the origins of Valentines’ Day can be traced to him. Picking apart the legend of Saint Valentine and the origins of the day that honors him is difficult. The Catholic Church recognizes three different Saint Valentines’, all of them martyrs.

Legend has that he was a priest who was killed for refusing to denounce his Christianity. Some say he was in love with his jailor’s daughter whom he left a farewell note to and signed it “from your Valentine.”

One story recalls Valentine as a Roman priest who was jailed by the Emperor Claudius. This third century Roman Emperor believed that single men made better soldiers than those who were married and had children, so he decreed that men were no longer able to marry. Valentine believed that this decree was injust so he continued to marry couples in secret. When the Emperor found out about Valentine’s secret marriages, he ordered the priest to be put to death.[1] Later, it is said, that Pope Gelasius set aside February 14th to honor Saint Valentine.

Another story about a St. Valentine is that of a priest who loved children. The Romans imprisoned him and the children threw notes to him through the bars of the jail. This legend also includes a jailor’s daughter, but in this story she is blind and Valentine restores her sight.

Candy, Flowers, and Cards Oh My!

Valentine’s Day cards are believed to date back to the 1400’s. In the United States, the sending of paper Valentine’s Day cards can be traced back to the 1800’s. According to one history I read, a Miss Esther Howland is given credit for sending the very first modern Valentines’ Day card.

I love old Valentine’s Day cards. I think the cards that they sell for kids today just lack something that cards of earlier generations had. Today’s cards with Spider-Man or the Bratz dolls lack the fun and folly that the cards of yesteryear had. Consider some of the sayings found on older valentines made for children to exchange. One shows a chubby boy police officer with a stop sign that says “In a Pinch I’d make a Good Valentine for you” or a picture of a whale that proclaims, “I’m not just spoutin’ off , I like you a whale of a lot!”.

The Virtual Museum of Canada online exhibit, Valentine’s Day: Love and Romance Through the Ages” includes pictures of sculptures, prints, and 19th century Valentine’s Day cards. ( This exhibit covers everything from the history of the day to history’s great lovers.

Through the West Virginia Libraries Regional History Collection you can view an online exhibit of forty 19th century Valentine’s Day postcards and cards ( One of my favorite postcards shows a hand holding five playing cards in the heart suite, a hand that would be considered a “flush” in poker. And the verse on it states, “I offer you without a blush; My heart and hand for I am Flush”.

If you would like to give your Valentine a card that resembles one an ancestor could have given, then check out The Stock Solution’s Vintage Valentine Art Collections ( These vintage cards are scanned and available for free limited personal use.

For a large selection of vintage Valentine’s Day cards that you can send to your sweetheart, check out Ebay ( As I write this article, Ebay sported over 1700 auctions for vintage Valentine’s Day cards. These would be great for adding interest to your family history as an illustration for a couple’s love story, to show what types of items were around during an ancestor’s childhood, or to use in a family history scrapbook.

It’s hard for many of us to imagine our parent’s being young and in love let alone our great grandparents. But with antique Valentine’s Day cards, we can get a glimpse of how love was in a different time.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Researching Women

I just returned home from speaking to the Palm Springs Genealogy Society. We had a great time discussing researching female ancestors. I gave my talk entitled: Remember the Ladies, Researching Women Ancestors."

After a presentation I always think, "oh I forgot to tell them this" or "I forgot to mention this resource". This presentation was no different.

One society member asked me a question about an ancestor whose mother's last name is in one document as Mrs. Smith and another document as Mrs. Brown. He was questioning whether this was an error. I talked to him about the possibility that the mother may have married multiple times thus resulting in the change of names. Also-we sometimes assume that people remarried only because of death. After all life was simpler way back when. Nothing could be further from the truth. Divorce did happen and in the 19th Century there were certain states that were considered divorce mills because they freely granted divorces. There was more than one reason for people to come west! So if you have a woman whose has been married multiple times, make sure that you prove the first husband is dead before you make that assumption. Divorces created records and those can be valuable for researching your female ancestor.

Another source that I wanted to mention is a source that is a little different. Many, if not most states have conducted Quilt Docuemntation Projects. This is where people brought in quilts and volunteers collected information about the quilt and its maker, including photos and biographical information. This information was then turned into a book. These state quilt documentation books include pages upon pages of women's pictures and bios. What a great resource for genealogists. Yes, it's a long shot but you never know. For a list of these books go to, Remember, you don't have to buy the book, you can request it through your local library's interlibrary loan program.