by Nancy Mahone Miller
Note from Carolyn Barkley: While I’m vacationing in Scotland, several of the July postings will be written by guest authors. The first in this series follows below.
Nancy Mahone Miller is the Collection Development Librarian for the Local History/Genealogy collection at Virginia Beach Public Library, Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is a past chapter regent of the Lynnhaven Parish Chapter, DAR (Virginia Beach) and a long-time DAR member who has mentored many prospective applicants through the process. She has established nine Revolutionary Patriots in her ancestry and has two more pending approval.
Pursuing the goal of lineage society membership often provides the impetus for seriously delving into one’s ancestry. To join a lineage society, a researcher must prove descent from a specific ancestor. The qualifications are usually based on a strict variety of credentials. For example, the prospective member must have an ancestor that arrived on a specific passenger ship such as the Mayflower, possess an early ancestor in a specific geographic area (e.g., Minnesota Territorial Pioneers), have a precise ethnic or religious background such as Huguenot, or relationship to a President of the United States (Presidential Families of America). The common thread in all lineage societies is that the members must document ancestry to a person who fits the organization’s criteria. Most societies, moreover, require sponsorship for membership by another member. Almost endless possibilities exist for membership in such a group.
Joining a lineage society affords the member a number of advantages, including the opportunity to connect with other genealogists who share a common interest and access to the organization’s library and/or membership records – or it simply may provide a way to meet some new cousins.
One of the earliest and best-known lineage societies is the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, commonly known as the DAR. Founded on October 11, 1890 and incorporated by an Act of Congress in 1896 (54th Cong. Sess. 1), the DAR has 3,000 chapters including international chapters in Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Since its inception, more than 889,000 women have joined this service organization dedicated to promoting historic preservation, education, and patriotism.
Furthermore, the DAR Library is one of the largest, most unique genealogical research centers in the United States, encompassing books, magazines, and manuscripts in addition to members’ applications. Some applications contain supporting documentation, such as copies of wills, deeds, and vital records. Of particular interest to researchers are G.R.C. Reports. These are unpublished compilations of Bible, cemetery, family, vital, county, town, church, and military records submitted by DAR members.
Any woman, 18 years of age or older and regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background, may join the DAR, provided that she can document direct lineal descent from an American Revolution patriot. Many incorrectly believe that the patriot must have actually fought in the Revolution when, in fact, there are other eligibility factors as well. To complete a membership application in the DAR successfully, an ancestor’s service must have occurred between April 19, 1775, the date of the Battle of Lexington, and November 26, 1783, when the last British troops withdrew from New York. Service in this time period may encompass a variety of activities, including signing the Declaration of Independence or a local Oath of Fidelity or Allegiance. Service as a member of the Continental Congress or a state convention also qualifies as does that of doctors, nurses, frontier defenders, and ministers who gave patriotic sermons. Additionally, descendants of members of the Boston Tea Party qualify. Also, service performed by French nationals in the United States and Europe, and persons who rendered material aid by furnishing supplies such as food, guns, whiskey, and horses qualifies. Moreover, ancestors who loaned money to the new government or provided a substitute for military service meet the criteria.
Civil Service during the correct time period also counts as qualification of service and may include duties as a state, county, or town official such as Town Clerk, Selectman, Juror, Town Treasurer, Judge, Sheriff, Constable, Jailer, Surveyor of Highways, or Justice of the Peace. Military Service includes serving in the Army or Navy Continental Lines, a state Navy, a state or local militia, service performed by French nationals, and privateers commissioned by the Continental Congress to prey on British ships. A little known qualifier is service in the Spanish Troops under Bernardo de Galvez, the Spanish governor of the Louisiana Territory, who sent gunpowder, rifles, bullets, blankets, medicine, and other supplies to George Washington’s troops.
If a potential member does not already know a member of the organization, she may begin the membership process by finding the names of local chapters on the DAR website. At-Large membership is available if no local chapter exists. Each chapter has a Registrar whose responsibility is to assist the applicant through the procedure. The Registrar will help the applicant complete the application and find the necessary supporting evidence. Registrars review applications and documentation, insuring they are complete before sending the completed materials to the DAR for membership approval.
When documenting the first three generations of an ancestry, the applicant must give complete dates and places. In rare instances, if the documentation cannot be obtained, DAR may still accept the applicant if she submits a statement showing what steps she took to acquire the proof and the reason it is not provided. The remaining generations should be as complete as possible, with verification for each date and place given. For generations four and beyond, an applicant must supply at least one place and date per person in each generation. Dates and places of birth and death are required for the Revolutionary War ancestor. “When exact dates cannot be given, approximate dates, such as those based upon the date of marriage, the dates of wills, deeds, etc. should be provided. In all cases, it must be shown that the place the ancestor resided is consistent with the place where the service is claimed, and was of sufficient age to have performed the service claimed…” (DAR Application Papers: Instructions for Their Preparation, DAR, 2004)
The applicant must document the entire lineage, not solely the direct bloodline to the Revolutionary War ancestor. In all cases, proof of parentage must be substantiated. Another DAR member’s application may be used for proof, of course, once the prospective member’s lineage coincides with a generation on an existing approved application.
So, then, what constitutes documentation? Birth records include birth certificates, delayed birth certificates, a doctor or midwife record, church records, federal and state censuses, baptismal certificates, family Bibles, and Social Security Application forms. Tombstone pictures may also be accepted. Marriage records include marriage certificates, marriage bonds/banns, divorce decrees, church marriage certificates, newspaper announcements, etc. Deaths may be documented with death certificates, cemetery or tombstone records, funeral home records, insurance policies, Social Security death records, church notices, obituaries, mourning or funeral cards. Some states, like Virginia, are creating online death record indices, which are aids to locating such records.
Other classic sources for documentation are federal and state censuses. The federal census records dated 1850 and later are particularly useful because they list household members and, with the exception of 1850 census, the relationship of an individual to the head of the household. Records such as wills and deeds can also be important in linking generations and the location where an ancestor resided. Other sources include military and pension records, muster rolls (for example, those pertaining to Valley Forge), tax records, probate records, family Bibles, church registers, encounters with the law, and chancery cases. Again, Virginia has begun to digitize its chancery cases.
There are contemporary sources that may reveal clues as well. Among these sources are passport and visa applications, employment records, mortgage and loan applications, telegrams, and letters from town clerks and town historians. Careful and persistent research will garner many women an ancestor that qualifies them to join the DAR.
For further information to substantiate a DAR application or learn about the American Revolution, consult the following resources:
Allen, Penelope Johnson. Tennessee Soldiers in the Revolution (Clearfield, 2008).
Army Accounts for the United States, to Officers and Soldiers of the Continental Army under Act of July 4, 1783 (Clearfield, 2002; currently on sale at genealogical.com)
Bockstruck, Lloyd de Witt. Revolutionary War Pensions: Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2011).
Brumbaugh, Gaius Marcus. Revolutionary War Records of Maryland (Clearfield, 2003).
Brumbaugh, Gaius Marcus. Revolutionary War Records of Virginia (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008).
Draper, Lyman Copland. King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008).
Ervin, Sara Sullivan. South Carolinians in the Revolution: with Service Records and Miscellaneous Data, Also Abstracts of Wills, Laurens County (Ninety-six District), 1775-1855. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1949.
Grunset, Eric G. American Genealogical Research at the DAR, Washington, DC. 2nd ed. (National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 2004).
Grunset, Eric G. Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War. 2nd ed. (National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 2008).
Gwathmey, John Hastings. Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, 1775-1783 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).
Heitman, Francis Bernard. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April 1775-December 1783 (Clearfield, 2008).
Kaminkow, Marion J. Mariners of the American Revolution: with an Appendix of American Ships Captured by the British during the Revolutionary War (Clearfield, 1993; currently out of print).
McCall, Mrs. Howard H. Roster of Revolutionary Soldiers in Georgia (Clearfield, 2004; 3 volumes, sold separately).
Muster and Pay Rolls of the War of the Revolution, 1775-1783: Reprinted from the Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Years 1914 and 1915 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).
Peterson, Clarence Stewart. Known Military Dead during the American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 (Clearfield, 2009).