When conducting research on claims filed by U.S. nationals against foreign governments, one should look into records of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States (FCSC), which are located in Record Group 299 at the National Archives at College Park, MD.
The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States is an independent agency within the Department of Justice that was established in 1954 to take over the functions previously carried out by the War Claims Commission and International Claims Commission.
- The War Claims Commission was created as a temporary agency by the War Claims Act of 1948 to settle claims of former U.S. World War II prisoners of war and civilian internees captured, or in hiding to avoid capture, in places like the Philippines, and, in the case of prisoners of war, in Germany and other Axis countries. From 1949 to April 1, 1954, approximately $134 million was paid to claimants as a result of determinations by the War Claims Commission.
- The International Claims Commission was established within the U.S. Department of State in 1949 to adjudicate claims involving the Yugoslav government, but was subsequently authorized to also handle similar claims between the United States and other foreign governments. By April 1, 1954, it had settled 531 claims.
A quasi-judicial agency, the FCSC determines the validity and monetary value of claims by U. S. nationals for loss or damage of property, or personal injury, in foreign countries. The claims it addresses fall either under specific jurisdiction conferred by Congress or in accordance with international claims settlement agreements. The funds for payment come out of congressional appropriations, international claims settlements, or liquidation of foreign assets in the United States by the Department of Justice or the Department of the Treasury. Decisions of the Commission with respect to claims are final and conclusive on all questions of law and fact, and are not subject to review by any official of the United States, or by any court.
While the FCSC continues to adjudicate claims to this day, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) only has in its holdings the records of completed international and war-related claims programs against several countries. The main body of FCSC records in Record Group (RG) 299 consists of claims files arranged numerically. There are some indexes to the claims programs also arranged numerically. There is also some background material, such as correspondence and memoranda, relating to the organization and administration of the claims programs. At the National Archives at College Park, we have records of the completed programs including (in alphabetical order): Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, East German, Ethiopian, General War Claims, Hungarian, Italian, Micronesian, Panamanian, Polish, Romanian, Soviet, Vietnamese, and Yugoslav.
Claims files typically contain claims forms; letters; affidavits; requests for confirmation of naturalization; confirmations of naturalization; registration forms; information on ownership and current status and use of the property; documentation on the value of the property usually issued by banks and courts of the countries the property is located in; and proposed and final decisions on the claims. Some of the claims files may also contain sworn statements; detailed inventories of the property; photographs of the property; reports; memoranda; copies of certificates of birth, death, and marriage; extracts from land records; letters from and to the U.S. Department of State; letters from and to the Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.); and letters from and to members of Congress regarding specific claims. The claims files contain materials in different languages including German, Polish, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, French, Greek, Italian, Albanian, Spanish, and others. While most of the claims records in our holdings are fully available for research, records in a few series that were recently accessioned must be reviewed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for personal privacy information before being served to researchers.
FCSC Claim Form. W-6103. General War Claims, 1962-1995. Record Group 299. NAID 5956280.
The largest series among the claims files is the General War Claims totaling 717 linear feet of records. It was administered under the authority of Title II of the War Claims Act of 1948. It consists of claims arranged numerically W-1 through W-22968 that were filed by nationals of the United States for loss or destruction of, or physical damage to, property located in certain specified areas of Europe and the Pacific and for certain deaths and personal injuries resulting from military operations during World War II. Some claims files consist of a few pages, while others contain hundreds or even thousands of pages of documentation. The claimed lost or destroyed property ranges from factory buildings, equipment, machinery, residential buildings, apartments, cars, horses, furniture, rugs, linens, dining sets, jewelry, paintings, books, bank accounts and loans, cash, royalties, and patent manufacturing licenses to rights to intellectual property such as musical pieces or publications.
In 2011, when I was first creating a processing plan for RG 299, I realized that we had no way to assist researchers in locating these records by name of claimant, as we did not have a name index in our holdings. The researchers had to first contact the FCSC and request a name search and claim number associated with that name. Then they would contact the National Archives and ask for that specific claim file. I reached out to the FCSC and requested that the indexes be transferred to NARA so that we could facilitate access. The FCSC agreed and we accessioned the indexes to most of the claims programs in our holdings. We subsequently digitized the indexes and linked specific National Archives Catalog descriptions to the digital images of the corresponding indexes. The indexes are listed in each description in our Catalog under Online Resources and may be viewed and downloaded through the Catalog. In addition, we created container lists for the claims files series. By using the name index to get the claim number, then locating the claim on the box list, researchers can determine the exact box they would like to request at the National Archives at College Park before they arrive. In this way, a large portion of the preliminary research can now be done at home before a researcher visits our research room. Once you arrive at NARA, the only additional piece of information you will need in order to fill out the pull slips is the physical location of the box.
The records of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States can be a great source for family research as they provide vital information about individuals and their whereabouts at a given time. These files also illustrate the judicial process for post-World War II international claims within the United States.