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One of the most valuable sources of genealogy for anyone with southern U.S. ancestry went online a couple of months ago. The Southern Claims Commission records can provide a wealth of information not found in census records, church records, tax lists, or elsewhere. In fact, for many people who lived in the southern states during and after the Civil War, the Southern Claims Commission records often are the only source of family relationships that still survive today.
Anyone searching African American ancestry in the south will also have a strong interest in these records. Nobody knows how many blacks filed applications or were mentioned in the claims filed by others. The Southern Claims Commission simply never kept totals of the ethnicity of the applicants. However, the text of many applications will reveal former slavery, often including the names of former owners and the names of family members. Many of the claims were filed by people of modest means. The Southern Claims Commission records contain information about blacks, slave-owning whites, and non-slave-owning whites in a manner unequalled anywhere else.
In an article published in the July/August 1999 edition of Ancestry Magazine, Reginald Washington wrote, "…the Southern Claims case files also have extraordinary amounts of personal data. Scattered among the thousands of pages of testimony, special reports, and affidavits is a wide range of information concerning the names and ages of former slaves, their places of residence, names of slave owners, plantation conditions, wills and probate matters, slave manumissions, slave ownership of property, slave and free black entrepreneurship, conditions of free blacks, and a great deal more on what it was like to live as an African American during slavery and the post-slavery period. For the Afro-American genealogist whose ancestor filed a claim before the commission, the information could prove to be invaluable."
NOTE: Reginald Washington is an archivist/genealogy specialist with National Archives and Records Administration. He lectures frequently on the use of Federal records for African American genealogy research. You can read the full text of his article at http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=213.
The Southern Claims Commission records are available online now at http://www.footnote.com. You can view individual documents (often multiple pages) for $1.99 each. You may find it more cost-effective to purchase a monthly or annual membership and gain unlimited access to as many images as you care to view. A monthly membership only costs $9.99 while an annual membership is available for $99.99.
Excerpt from eogn.com
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