French-American Claims Commission?


Your QuickLesson 4 touches upon my problem. In the archives of my university, I found old photocopies of pages from several cases that deal with property destruction by the U.S. army during the Civil War. Each photocopy has a pencilled note that reads "French-American Claims Commission no. xxxxxxx, National Archives." I wrote the National Archives but they say I did not give them enough information for them to locate the cases among all their records. Can you help?


Submitted byEEon Sun, 04/29/2012 - 13:57

CRCriver, your dilemma is a common one. It also demonstrates the value of Google as a finding aid.

Following the process used in QL 4, if we first go to NARA’s online guide, and query for “French-American Claims Commission” or “French & American Claims Commission,” we get just one reference to a fleeting mention in Treasury Records. That’s obviously not what we want.  If we use the main query-form for the whole site, with quotation marks around one of those terms, we get that same one result. If we Google for the phrase, we get three results—two references to one private website and one JSTOR abstract of an article from a history journal in which this commission is cited.

The citations at both sites are the stripped down models that historians typically use; but they tell us something every NARA citation needs and something missing from what you have at hand: the RG number. In this case, the files of the commission are cited to Record Group 76.  Going back to the online guide to search its chapter for RG 76 (Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations), we find a mention of several preliminary inventories, including one that deals with claims:

George S. Ulibarri, comp., Preliminary Inventory of Records Relating to International Claims, PI 177 (Washington: National Archives, 1974).

This guide, which we can get from NARA or the book dealer referenced in QL4, provides our Eureka Moment. (Lucky for you, at this moment, it's one EE's editor brought home from NARA ages ago.) The table of contents shows that it is conveniently arranged by country. Flipping to the section for France, we find (pp. 26-27) a number of collections dealing with “Conventions of 1880, 1882, and 1883 (French and American Claims Commission).”  The point of access to these files is provided by two of the PI's descriptions:

"Entry 153. INDEX TO DOCKETED FRENCH CLAIMS, 1881. 1 vol.

"Arranged alphabetically by name of claimant. Index to claims described in entry 154, giving name of claimant and claim number.

"Entry 154. DOCKETED FRENCH CLAIMS AGAINST THE U.S., 1880-84. 50 ft.

"Arranged by claim numbers 1-727; indexed by name of claimant in the records described in entry 153. … Documentary evidence submitted by claimants in support of their claims. Included are memorials, depositions, correspondence, and other documents, such as motions, objections, and briefs. …"

Following the citation advice in QL4, you should go back to NARA and ask them to check the following:

RG 76, Records of Boundary and Claims Commission and Arbitrations

Docketed French Claims against the United States, 1880-84 (50 ft.); and Index to Docketed French Claims, 1881 (1 vol.), as described in George S. Ulibarri, comp., Preliminary Inventory of Records Relating to International Claims, PI 177 (Washington: National Archives, 1974), entries 153 and 154.

Submitted byCRCriveron Mon, 04/30/2012 - 19:56


Thank you. One more thing. My Xeroxes include a sworn statment of a woman I’m researching, but she was a slave and had no claim herself. She was a witness. She says a lot about what happened when the army came through. The copied pages don’t say whose claim her affidavit is filed with. Would that national archives index include the names of witnesses?

Submitted byEEon Tue, 05/01/2012 - 19:27



The above PI states that the index covers claimants. By extrapolation, this would mean only claimants. You’ll find this pattern with virtually all of the claims collections held at NARA—and there are indeed many of these we can find by studying the PIs.

Even without a convenient index, the files are accessible if you apply the FAN Club Principle—that is, studying your person-of-interest in the context of his or her "FAN Club": Family, Associates, and Neighbors. Go back to the 1870 census on which your formerly enslaved lady first appears by name. Identify the families in her community, families of all colors. Then, when you access the F&ACC index, search for claims by all those individuals you’ve just identified as her “neighbors.” The odds are good that most, if not all, of those files will have valuable information for you.