Under an act of Congress approved March 3, 1871, a three-member commissioners Southern Claims Commission received, examined, and considered the claims of “those citizens who remained loyal adherents to the cause and the Government of the United States during the war, for stores or supplies taken or furnished during the rebellion for the use of the Army of the United States in States proclaimed as in insurrection against the United States.” The commissioners’ principal duties were to satisfy themselves of each claimant’s loyalty and certify the amount, nature, and value of the property taken or furnished.
The files of claimants under this act are rich with personal details, including age and place of birth; residence during the Civil War; occupation; names and ages of family members; names of neighbors; and types of crops grown and animals raised. For free people of color, these records are especially valuable, as there seldom are other sources for this type of information.
Robert Aldridge is my only known direct ancestor to file with the SCC. Indexes show that his claim was assigned number 14,758; that he asserted losses of $832.00; and that, in 1873, he was allowed $573.00 in compensation.
Some years ago, while in Washington DC, I made a beeline up Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Archives to get a look at Robert’s folder. I sat in the research room, a faint smile on my lips, heart rate slightly elevated, alert. And then: “I’m sorry. That file is missing.” Gone. And has been for years, for it was never microfilmed, and even indexes leave blank the summary of its contents.
To think of this still makes me nauseous, as Robert Aldridge is an elusive figure with murky antecedents and obscure dealings. Few of his deeds were recorded, and the extent of his landholdings is unclear. A statement to the SCC — in his own words, precious in and of itself — would have been a goldmine of information.