Rations Lists (AKA Register of Destitutes): Lists of Elders By Plantation, Before 1870
Rations lists (sometimes labeled “Register of Destitutes,” “Register of Those to Whom Rations Were Issued,” etc.) are among the richest records in FamilySearch’s collection South Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-1872.
When General Rufus Saxton assumed responsibility for the operation of the Freedmen’s Bureau in South Carolina, one of his immediate concerns was providing food, clothing and medical relief to thousands of freedmen and white refugees left destitute by the war. On many plantations, elderly and infirm freedmen and orphaned children were in immediate need of food relief. By mid-summer of 1865, Saxton had distributed more than 300,000 military rations in South Carolina to alleviate widespread hunger. Agents recorded the names and ages of those to whom rations were distributed. 1 As artifacts of the bureau’s operations in South Carolina, rations lists are especially valuable as they preserve the names of ancestors who were age 50 and older on many plantations.
Rations Lists and the Information They Contain
The example below is from a rations list recorded in Moncks Corner, Berkeley District, SC. In this list, name, gender, age, race, plantation, city or district, infirmities and remarks were recorded for each person who received rations. 2
Above: Sample Page from Register of Destitutes for Moncks Corner, SC in 1867.
Source: Records of the Field Offices for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872 (NARA Record Group 105) M869, Reel 89
Rations lists are especially important resources for African American genealogy research for a number of reasons.
Rations Lists Provide Clues to Your Family’s Location Before 1870
The information recorded in rations lists varied by Field Office location, but most included the place of residence for those who received rations. Some lists include the Field Office location only, while others list the plantation of residence for rations recipients. If you do not have pre-1870 records for your ancestor or have not located them in the 1870 US Census, rations lists can provide important leads for focusing your research on a specific location.
Rations Lists Sometimes Contain the Names of Ancestors Not Listed in the 1870 Census
Because of their advanced age in 1867, some of the elders in the example above may not have lived until 1870 and thus would not have been listed in the 1870 US Census. Indeed, this record may be the only surviving record that lists some of these ancestors by first and last name.
Rations Lists Can Help You Add Another Generation to Your Family Tree
If you find an elder in a rations list with the same surname and on the same plantation as one of your known ancestors, it is certainly worth investigating to determine if that elder belongs in your family tree. A good place to start investigating is in wills and estate inventories for the slaveholding family that owned the plantation, as family relationships were sometimes noted in probate documents.
Rations Lists Can Provide Clues to the Final Slaveholder and Plantation
If you find a known ancestor listed in a rations list where the plantation is noted, this may be a clue to help you discover that ancestor’s final slaveholder. To investigate the possibility, you will need to learn the name of the owner of the plantation, then examine 1850 and 1860 US Census Slave Schedules to determine if the plantation owner is listed as a slaveholder. If the plantation owner is listed in the 1850 or 1860 US Census Slave Schedules, examine the schedule to see if an enslaved person of the appropriate age and gender for your ancestor is listed.
If there is an enslaved person of the appropriate age and gender listed, that family should definitely be on your research radar as a possible final slaveholder for your ancestor. You can dig deeper by examining wills, estate inventories and bills of sale for the slaveholding family to see if your ancestor’s first name is listed in any of those documents.
More Records Await!
Rations lists are just one example of the rich records that await in FamilySearch’s collection South Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-1872. The rations list in this example lists the names and locations of hundreds of elders who were age 50 and above in 1867, on 112 plantations in the Moncks Corner, SC sub-district. Thanks to FamilySearch we now have free Internet access to rations lists from every sub-district in SC!
For advice on locating rations lists in the records, please see Accessing and Navigating the FamilySearch Collection South Carolina, Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-1872.
 United States Congress and National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC. 2005 Descriptive Pamphlet for Records of the Field Offices for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872, NARA Record Group 105, Micropublication M1910.
 Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. 1867 “Register of Destitutes, Moncks Corner, South Carolina.”Records of the Field Offices for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872, NARA Record Group 105, Micropublication M869, Reel 89.
You can view the entire Moncks Corner rations list by following the link below:
Freedmen’s Bureau Register of Destitutes (Rations Lists) by Plantation, Moncks Corner Sub-district, SC, 1867