Lineage Societies – the Well-Known, the Obscure How to Apply Successfully

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Membership in a lineage society is a research objective for many genealogists. A successful application requires a great deal of research not only into the specific lineage involved, but also into the society’s reason for being. While status is one reason for joining a lineage society, membership can also provide recognition for and validation of your research by a society genealogist, can facilitate access to otherwise unavailable information, and provides a means to preserve your research and make it accessible to others. In addition, you may be able to meet researchers with common interests at local or state chapter meetings and receive informative publications or attend educational programs that will further your research. This week’s article discusses various types of lineage societies and provides some general strategies for completing a successful application.

Your first step will be to identify a lineage society for whose membership you qualify. The most comprehensive printed source for society information is the Hereditary Society Blue Book (Genealogical Publishing Co. 1994, currently on sale at genealogical.com). Entries in this title include the insignia of the organization, its founding date, a brief description of eligibility, membership total, and a contact address and phone number. The volume also indicates when membership is by invitation only.

An independently created web site lists the societies from the Hereditary Society Blue Book and provides links to “sites that were created by societies having their own page in the Blue Book.” This web site does not duplicate any of the information contained in the Blue Book, other than the list. At least two cautions should be noted for its use, however. First, I could not determine the date of the creation (or update) of this site. In addition, when I followed the link for the Society of the Cincinnati, I found that I was connected to a page that promoted the purchase of a book. Only after scrolling down the page to other links, did I find membership information (although I was not linked to a Society of the Cincinnati web site). Perhaps the information is included in this fashion in order to make general information accessible to the user in one location. For example, when I then Googled “Society of the Cincinnati,” I discovered that state chapters of this organization have their own individual web sites.

A site that I found very useful is “Lineages.com” which provides the ability to search for lineage societies in a variety of categories, including by state (drop down box on right hand side). URLs are provided when available.

The links I have provided below, however, are to the membership or general information pages of specific societies found by searching (via Google) for the actual name of the society after I had identified it in the Heritage Society Blue Book.

Perhaps some of the best known lineage societies are those whose membership is tied to an ancestor’s military service: the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, National Society, Sons of the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati, the National Society United States Daughters of 1812, the Military Society of the War of 1812, the Aztec Club of 1847, the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, among others.

Some societies base their membership on colonial descent. Examples include the National Society Children of the American Colonists, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, the National Society of Old Plymouth Colony Descendants, the National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century, such state-level organizations as the Sons and Daughters of the First Settlers of Massachusetts, the Order of First Families of Virginia, and the Dutch Colonial Society of Delaware.

Other society memberships may be based on such criteria as: settlers of specific states (the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the Sons and Daughters of Oregon Pioneers); royal lineages (the Hereditary Order of the Descendants of the Kings of Scotland, and the Plantagenet Society); colony founders (Society of the Ark and Dove[Maryland], and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants); historic events (the Baronial Order of the Magna Charta); political office (the Hereditary Order Descendants of Colonial Governors); occupations (the Flagon and Trencher, and the Order of Descendants of Colonial Physicians and Chirurgiens);  and country of origin (Holland Society of New York, and the Swedish Colonial Society).

Some of my favorite lineage societies are the quainter or more obscure (at least to me) organizations such as: the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, open to “women sixteen years of age or older who are able to prove descent from an ancestor or ancestress accused, tried or executed for the practice of witchcraft prior to 31 December 1699,” with a membership (in 1994) of 100; and the Order of Daedalians. The Hereditary Society Blue Book indicated (in 1994) that this latter society had, as “founder members,” anyone who served as a “commissioned officer in any component of the United States Armed Forces holding a rating as a military pilot of heavier-than-air powered aircraft,” prior to 12 November 1918. “Named members” include any “commissioned military pilot of heavier-than-air powered aircraft…active or retired, who is accepted as a member to perpetuate the membership of a Founder Member.” “Hereditary members” are the descendents, real or adopted of a Founder Member. This group had a membership of 17,000. The order’s current web site clarifies membership requirements stating that “U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine or Navy pilots of heavier-than-air, powered aircraft, active, retired, Reserve or Guard who hold or held a commission, warrant or flight officer status, or WASP are eligible for membership in the Order. Membership is not restricted with respect to age, sex, race, etc.”

Clearly, lineage societies appeal to a wide variety of interests and eligibilities. Once you have selected a society to join, however, several steps are necessary to insure a successful application. Remember, that while your genealogical research skills enable you to complete the application process, the individual society may also make requests of you with regard to the organization and format of information to be submitted.

  1. Learn about the society you have selected. While published or online compiled information is a valuable first-step, make sure that you are using up-to-date information. Where is the society located? Does it provide access to member applications? If so, how can you access these applications? Does it provide research assistance? Some societies have individuals who can help you with problem-solving related to your application. Does the society have resource materials for research use?

Learn about the society’s eligibility requirements and membership application process. If the society has a web site, consult that site to determine who is eligible to join and how to apply. Many sites provide specific forms for you to complete and specific details for the justification that is required to accompany the application. If a web site created by the society is not available – or appears to be out-of-date – search other sites to obtain the society’s current address. Write a letter requesting membership information and any applicable forms. Read the information you receive from either the web site or by mail very carefully and follow them “to the letter.”

Some societies require a preliminary application and grant a conditional acceptance before inviting your formal application. In such a case, note the cost required. Do you send it with the preliminary application, or only with the full submittal? If with the former, is any amount of the cost refundable if you are not accepted?

If the society is a membership-by-invitation-only type of organization, inquire how to identify possible sponsors. Are there any members in your local or state society? Do any friends or neighbors belong or know someone who does?

  1. Organize your documentation carefully, numbering and labeling each item with your name, the name of the individual and event to which a document pertains, and the source of the information. Clear identification of your work allows it to be linked easily to the appropriate portion of your application form. Submit only photocopies of documents, not originals. Neatness is, as always, a virtue.
  1. Provide documentation from original sources as often as possible.
  1. Verifying genealogists in lineage societies review many applications and associated documentation. Make the information you are submitting as easy to understand as possible. If the document contains information unrelated to your application, mark your documentation by underlining it with a red pen; do not use highlighter. If your application is later photocopied or microfilmed by the society, highlighted information will be rendered illegible. In addition, include a cover sheet summary of your documentation indicating the number of the generation, the name of the individual(s), and the titles of that documents that prove that specific element of the lineage.
  1. If you feel that the application process exceeds your research comfort level, consider hiring a genealogist who specializes in lineage research. You can identify such individuals on the Association of Professional Genealogists web site. Hiring a professional may be particularly helpful if you have had an application rejected and returned for additional documentation.

These five steps are very basic.  For more in-depth help, read “Lineage Papers,” Chapter 24 in Professional Genealogy (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009).

I hope that this information will encourage you to identify a lineage society that is applicable to your research and provide you with the skills to complete a successful application.

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