I want to join the Society of the Cincinnati. How do I start?

Unlike the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati does not accept just any ancestor with Revolutionary War military service as qualifying descendants for membership. For your ancestor to qualify you for the Society of the Cincinnati, they cannot have served in the militia or held a non-commissioned rank. They must have been commissioned, served in the Continental Army or Navy, and in most cases, have served for at least three years.

So, how do I know if my ancestor qualifies?

  • You know that you are either a direct descendant or a niece or nephew.
  • You’ve determined that they were of age to serve in the American Revolution. An officer is generally between their 20s and 50s. 30s and 40s is most likely.
  • You know that they lived in that area and that there is not another man of the same name who may have served instead.
  • You know that they served. Check Fold3 for Revolutionary War service records and pension files.
  • You know that they were an officer and served for the required period. Heitman’s Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army can help you confirm.

All conditions met? Contact the constituent society to see if the line is available.

The Society of the Cincinnati

Founded in 1783, The Society of Cincinnati is America’s oldest lineage society, and one of its least known. Per the Society’s “History” page, it was created to serve as support of the commissioned officers of the Continental Army. Since 1854, it has welcomed descendants of those who joined the society in 1783 and those who did not join but met the society’s standards for qualification.

Per the Society, qualifications are as follows:

The basic qualifications of membership are defined in the Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, adopted in 1783. The Institution provided for the admission of commissioned officers in the Continental and French service who had served to the end of the war and those who had resigned with honor after a minimum of three years’ service as a commissioned officer. The Institution also provided for the admission of commissioned officers who had been separated from the army in a reorganization involving the merging of two or more units. The contemporary term for this was “derangement.”

In short, the following basic requirements must be met for an individual to considered a qualified.

  • The individual must descend from a commission officer.
  • That officer may not have served in the militia.
  • They must have either served to the end of the War or resigned after three years service.

The most constituent societies have an additional qualification: the line must be available. Membership in the Society generally passes by primogeniture, from eldest son to eldest son. If the line dies out or a descendant chooses not to pursue membership, a new line in the direct descent may lay claim to the line. If they do not, it becomes available to nieces or nephews of the qualifying ancestors. As a result, the Society remains competitive to join.

Applications while Home Bound

Do you have an application to the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of the American Revolution, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Colonial Dames, or another lineage society in process? Are you wondering how to proceed?

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Don’t panic! You can still work on your application.
  2. If you have yet to gather all your documentation, keep researching. Many vital records offices and archives are still filling mail requests. Don’t forget to check FamilySearch to see if the required records have been microfilmed.
  3. Have all your documentation? Get it organized. Sort your supporting documentation by generation. Make a list of all your citations.
  4. Ready to submit? File the request with the historian or registrar. (Most are working by email from home.)
  5. Follow their submission instructions precisely. They may ask you to submit a digital copy or to mail to a different address so that it can be reviewed by genealogists working from home.
  6. Be patient! Societies are still reviewing. Things are just moving more slowly, since everyone’s working from home.


Three Must-Find Sources for Mayflower Applications

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has the same document requirements as the Daughters of the American Revolution, right? Wrong. Here are three sources you must find as you’re working on your application.

  1. The Silver Books entries for this line: DAR and GSMD both require you to use what’s already on file, but that information is stored in different locations. GSMD uses the entries from the Silver Books. It’s a good idea to review them when you’re starting out to be sure your line makes sense and is believed to be accurate. There’s a lot of incorrect information out there. You do not need to make copies. The historian will add the details (or make them available to you to add) when your application is prepared.
  2. Vital records: The Daughters of the American Revolution only (currently) requires vital records for the first three generations (applicant, parents, and grandparents). The General Society of Mayflower Descendants requires vital records for the entire period they were legally demanded. Some historians may ask for records from an even earlier period in which vital records were recorded but not required by law. If a record cannot be found, be prepared to get a no record found letter from the clerk, recorder, or archives.
  3. Additional marriages: DAR only requires documentation of the marriage that produced the child and any that may have caused the woman’s legal name to change. GSMD expects all marriages for the person the line runs through (line carrier). Some historians may ask for all marriages for the couple. Be prepared.

5 Sources to Avoid Using for Mayflower Society Applications

Are you home researching for fun? While now is a great time to start working your application for the General Society of Mayflower Descendants – and you might even get a 2020 join date if you apply now – there are a few sources you should avoid.

  1. Family trees and pedigree charts: We see a lot of these when doing Mayflower applications! Unfortunately, they’re not considered “documentation” of your Mayflower line, as they really just tell us that someone thought you were related to Mayflower passenger. They don’t tell us where that information came from. Treat them like hints and go find the original source.
  2. Ancestry ThruLines: It’s exciting to get a notification from Ancestry DNA that you might be related to a Mayflower passenger. But don’t turn it in as proof. ThruLines uses a combination of DNA and family trees to identify possible common ancestors. As a result, it has the same issues as family trees.
  3. Unsourced family genealogies: Have the same last name as a family who traveled on the Mayflower? You must be related, right? Not always! Some older family genealogies linked together unrelated people of the same surname so they could claim Mayflower ancestry. Don’t assume they were right. Find the documents to check.
  4. The 1850 census: This is a common issue with a lot of lineage societies. The 1850 census doesn’t list how people in the household were related, so it can’t be used to “prove” parent-child relationships.
  5. Daughters of the American Revolution applications: I’m not really sure why this question comes up so often, but no, GSMD does not take DAR applications, even if your DAR ancestor is in the GSMD line. The only society besides DAR that takes DAR applications is SAR. Use the citations from the DAR application and find the original sources.

Happy hunting!

I just found a Mayflower passenger in my tree. How do I join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants?

Step one: slow down! Unfortunately, a lot of people want to be Mayflower descendants. So there are a lot of wrong trees.

Your next step is to check the older generations and see if they’re accurate. You can likely do that for free at your local library. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants (or connected family groups) publishes a collection called the Silver Books, which compiles all the known information on the first few generations of Mayflower descendants. Some go up only to five generations. Others – in progress – may go much further. If your line doesn’t match what’s in the book, it’s likely not correct. (There may be people missing from the Silver Books, but that chance isn’t high.)

If you’ve confirmed the first few generations, your next step is to see what Mayflower has on file. Yes, there’s a fee – but it’s cheaper than buying a bunch of certificates you won’t need. We discussed Lineage Match in a previous post.

And then it’s time to contact the historian in your state and begin ordering what you need…

Staying Home? Here’s how you can work on your lineage society application!

Being housebound doesn’t mean that you need to stop working on your lineage society application. Here are five things you can do to keep your application process moving:

  1. Decide which societies you’d like to join. There are a lot of lineage societies out there. We’ve discussed a few of the more popular, but there are others that are very active. Does your hometown’s founders’ group sound like fun?
  2. Identify a line and check it against what the society already has on file. Many societies have a way to check their previously verified applications so you can determine how much of the line you’ll need to document.
  3. Order the vital records (civil registration) that you’ll need to complete the application. They always take a few weeks to arrive anyway. Order them by mail now, and you’ll be ahead when things get started again.
  4. Contact the society you’re interested in. Most societies require you to work with a historian or registrar. The Mayflower Society currently has a multi-month queue to get historian assistance in some states. Get in line now.
  5. Review your other sources and decide if you need help. Finding the process of ordering the records overwhelming? Need help making a parent-child connection? Most genealogists are still working. Now is the perfect time to reach out!

Is your Daughters of the American Revolution application ready to submit?

Do you think you have all the documents you need to “prove” your DAR application on an established line?

Here are a few things you need to check:

  1. Does any referenced information meet current standards? For your patriot, that means there must be a date and place of birth, a date and place of death, a spouse, and residence information. There must be a source for any service. The last is especially important. Old applications tend not to have it.
  2. For the first three generations, do you have birth, death, and marriage certificates for both spouses? These certificates need to be “long-form” (ie. name the parents) for the person through whom the line runs. Remember, if needed, you might be able to submit only a death certificate.
  3. Do you have vital records for other generations if they exist? DAR is increasingly requesting all vital records that might exist for a line.
  4. Have you documented one date and place (birth or death), the connection between spouses, and the connection between parents and children for all generations from the fourth back to the patriot? This documentation cannot come from a family tree!

If you can answer yes to all four questions. You might be ready to submit. If not, you have work to do!

Money Saving Tricks for Daughters of the American Revolution Applications

One of the most common points of panic about DAR applications is the cost. With vital record certificates running up to $30 a copy, an application to the Daughters of the American Revolution can get expensive quickly. But some careful planning can save money. Here are a few questions to consider:

Is the information I need already on file? DAR does not require you to resubmit documentation for information it has already validated, provided it meets current standards. Have someone who is comfortable “reading” the DAR system review what you need to submit before you start ordering. It can save hundreds.

Is that vital record required? As of March 2020, DAR permits submission of the death certificate to document birth if the death certificate includes the date and place of birth and the parents’ names. It’s an easy way to save the $20-$30 cost of a birth certificate.

Is there another way to get a copy? Not everything has to be ordered from the state vital records office. Town clerks, county recorders, and other local officials may have some leeway in the fee, and often turn around records much faster. FamilySearch has digitized many early vital records and has them available for free on their website.

Think before you order! The cost of the application will be much more manageable, and you’ll have money for suplementals.

5 Sources to Avoid in Daughters of the American Revolution Applications

Once you’ve documented the “first three,” the use of civil registration (vital records) is recommended but not required by the Daughters of the American Revolution. As you get further back in time, they don’t always exist. You’ll need to substitute other sources.

Here are five you should avoid:

  1. Family trees: Just because you found it on Ancestry does not mean it’s true! DAR does not accept family trees, pedigree charts, or any of the other variations on family records. Most don’t indicate the source of their information, and they are prone to error. Treat them like hints – and go find the original documents.
  2. Family histories without citations: That wonderful family history that traces your family all the way back to the American Revolution will not be allowed if it doesn’t explain where the information came from. There’s too great a risk that an inaccurate story has been added to the mix. Again, treat it like a hint.
  3. The 1850 census: Because it’s the first census listing everyone in the household, applicants love to submit the 1850 census as “proof” of parent-child relationships. The only problem is that the 1850 census doesn’t indicate how people in the house were related. That child could be the child of the adult – or his or her niece or nephew, visiting for a while. If you’re going to use the 1850 census, make sure your argument is supported by another source.
  4. SAR applications: Yes, the Sons of the American Revolution does in limited cases accept Daughters of the American Revolution applications to “prove” lines to SAR patriots. Contrary to what you may here, this policy is not reciprocal due to tighter DAR standards. If your family member applied to SAR, ask for their supporting documentation so that you can supplement it and apply to DAR. Their application won’t help.
  5. Grandma’s DAR application: DAR standards have tightened dramatically over the last few decades. DAR does allow an applicant to reference what information is already on file with the society instead of providing new documentation. But just the fact that Grandma was once a member will not be good enough. What she provided will need to meet contemporary standards. Instead of looking just at Grandma’s application, have someone check what is already on file, so that they can tell what you have to provide.

Don’t read this to mean the DAR application process is scary. It isn’t! But you need to pay careful attention to what documents you turn in and why.