Sunday, February 12, 2012

Researching Ex-Slave Ancestors

Ex-Slave Pension Correspondence & Case Files
Many researchers of ex-slaves are unaware of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association. They may have never heard of the Ex-slave Pension Club, the Ex-Slave Petitioner’s Assembly or of other ex-slave aid organizations.  However, a government investigation of these associations/organizations yielded records, correspondence and more dating between 1892 and 1922.  

What are These Files?

The Washington, D.C., Ex-Slave Pension Correspondence and Case Files include a collection of 8 Case files of the ex-slave pension movement which was modeled after the Civil War pension program for veterans.  Here is a full description of the collection: M2110But, the following petition provides the best explanation of the mission.  

WHEREAS, Generation after generation of Colored people served this country as slaves for two hundred and forty-four years, or more and,
WHEREAS, This government owes the unknown and deceased Colored soldiers a large sum of money which is unclaimed, and,WHEREAS, Many of these soldiers have brothers, fathers, mothers, and sisters among us, who are destitute and starving, andWHEREAS, It is a precedent established by the patriots of this country to relieve its distressed citizens, both on land and sea, and millions of our deceased people, besides those who still survive, worked as slaves for the development of the great resources and wealth of this country, and,
WHEREAS, We believe it just and right to grant the old ex-slave a pension 
THEREFORE, We the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, appeal to your Honorable Body to pass the Senate Bill, No. 1978, introduced, Feb. 6, 1896 by Senator Thurston of Nebraska, providing pension for Freedman, etc.

Researching These Files Before running to the online website, the researcher must know that although the almost 300 pages digitized on is a good place to start (or NARA microfilm roll: M2110), DO NOT rely on the index tool to find mention of your ancestor. Some signatures and mentions of ex-slaves in the depositions have been overlooked or misspelled. 

Yet, a page by page scroll of this collection may uncover your ancestor and reveal information such as slave master, state and county of birth, and age.

Other Genealogical Data on Ex-Slaves
As these files were preserved as part of a federal investigation of fraud, within the Ex-Slave Pension Correspondence and Case Files depositions provide names, place of birth and residence of ex-slave ancestors. This deposition by I. H. Dickerson, a leader of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, provides names of siblings, verifies his name slave name change, gives sisters’ married names and residence of family members, etc.

Certificate of Membership
Although each Ex-Slave Pension organization did not issue certificates, a few did. They provide a statement of : “I hereby testify that I was born a slave” followed by county (or city/county) and state.

Personal Letters
Through their fraud investigation, the US government also seized and archived many personal letters that involve the postmasters, townsmen, and leaders of the associations and recruitment flyers.

Although you can research these files by name, location, etc., I, once again, encourage the researcher to review each page.  
Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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