Because lineage society membership is based on ancestry, all societies require applicants to document their relationship to the qualifying ancestor. But what does this actually mean?
You’ll need to document the births, marriages, deaths, connections between parents and children, and connections between spouses in every generation back to the qualifying ancestor.
What documents can you use to do so?
For the first three generations (you, your parents, and your grandparents), most societies will require that you provide civil birth, marriage and death certificates. If there were multiple marriages, documentation of those may also be required. (The General Society of Mayflower Descendants requires documentation of all marriages of the person the line runs through.)
Beyond that, requirements depend on the society. After the third generation, The Daughters of the American Revolution will allow the use of church records, probate files, or gravestone images (provided they are “period”) to document birth, marriage or death. Mayflower Society will generally require vital records as long as they exist. As long the source is original – ie. deeds, pension files, probate – it can generally be used in some capacity. Just be aware of what the source actually says: the 1850 census cannot be used to document relationships – as it doesn’t list them!
What documents can you not use?
With some rare exceptions, you cannot use the lineage society papers of another society to support an application in a new one. For example, the Daughters of the American Revolution does not take the papers of the Sons of the American Revolution. (That being said, under certain circumstances, SAR will take DAR’s applications.)
Most societies do not accept older local history books or family genealogies unless they are used in conjunction with original sources.
You cannot – in any circumstances – use family trees or family group sheets. If you have them, find the original sources.
There’s a Daughters of the American Revolution chapter (or Sons of the American Revolution…or Mayflower Society…) meeting right next to your house, but for some reason, it doesn’t feel like “home.” Are you required to attend meeting there if you want to join, just because it’s local?
No! Absolutely not.
With the exception of “one location” lineage societies, such as societies celebrating the founders of cities, no lineage society requires that you attend meetings in a specific society or chapter. Most people migrate to the society or chapter that meets closest to their home simply out of convenience, but realistically, the lineage society would rather that you find a group that fits your personality, schedule, and goals. It is far more important to them to keep you active than attending in a specific location.
So, how do you find out if the local society or chapter is a good fit? If possible, attend meetings before joining. Most groups allow prospective members to attend a limited number of events. Don’t expect to allowed into business meetings, but you should be allowed to attend social events. If you aren’t able to attend meetings and find out that the group isn’t a good fit after joining, there is always an option to transfer.
When the societies verify a lineage, they’re checking the family tree against the information that they already have on file from members who have completed applications. This means that certain lines will be very well documented. Others will have absolutely nothing none on file. Simply put, the fact that your ancestor isn’t listed only means that no one has applied using their qualifications – yet.
And you should be proud to be the first! Some societies – The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) being the most notable – offer special documentation when the applicant documents a new ancestor or in some cases a new child of an ancestor. The extra effort will earn you the joy of seeing your ancestor’s contribution recognized but also recognition from the society.
Do family stories say that you qualify for Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Colonial Dames or another lineage society?
While they won’t identify every qualifying line – and may identify a few that no longer meet the society’s requirements – a few societies have systems set up to check.
The Mayflower Society: “Lineage match” allows you to check your ancestry against what the society already has on file. After review, GSMD will send you a list of what they’ve found and an explanation of what you’ll still need to document.
DAR: The “GRS” (“Genealogical Research System”) will allow you to search through previously submitted applications and, theoretically, check to see if your ancestry is already on file. BEWARE – many of the applications in the system no longer meet the society’s standards. Although someone familiar with the society can “read” the site well enough to tell if a line still qualifies, that is not a judgment you want to make on your own.
SAR: Still being built, the “Patriot Research System” will eventually allow you to search through SAR applications and to identify what is already on file. At this point, only a small number of applications have been attached. BEWARE – currently, this system is underdeveloped and should only be used for hints.
While there are numerous lineage societies, there are few larger and more active societies. Learn a little more about these societies, their qualification requirements, and their mission.
Daughters of the American Revolution: A woman’s society, DAR requires that its members be descended from someone who supported the American side during the Revolutionary War. Members are involved in a number of projects supporting the society’s mission of “promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.”
Sons of the American Revolution: A men’s society, SAR has similar membership requirements to DAR. SAR defines its mission as ” The Objects of this Society are declared to be patriotic, historical, and educational; to unite and promote fellowship among the descendants of those who sacrificed to achieve the independence of the American people, to inspire them and the community-at-large with a more profound reverence for the principles of the government founded by our forefathers; to foster true patriotism; to maintain and extend the institutions of American freedom. ”
General Society of Mayflower Descendants (The Mayflower Society): Open to both men and women, GSMD requires that its members be descended from Mayflower passengers. GSMD defines its mission as “The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, GSMD, is committed to research on the lineal descent of the Mayflower Pilgrims and education about the Pilgrims who travelled aboard the Mayflower in 1620.”
General Society of Colonial Wars: An invitation only men’s society, SCW requires that its members be descended from individuals who served in America’s colonial conflicts or held a limited number of governmental positions. SCW seems to state its mission as: “to collect and preserve manuscripts, rolls, relics, and records, to hold suitable commemorations and to erect memorials relating to the American Colonial period, to inspire in its members the fraternal and patriotic spirit of their forefathers, and to inspire in the community respect and reverence for those whose public services made our freedom and unity possible “
You love history: While your love of history might make friends or family roll their eyes, you’ll be in good company at the average lineage society meeting.
You want to honor your ancestors: Has your family passed down an incredible story about one of your ancestors? Would you love to share it, but no one outside your family seems to care? By putting a new ancestor on file with a society, you can ensure that their story is recognized.
You want to ensure your family history is preserved: Are you questioning whether your family will preserve your genealogy research? Most lineage societies now store the application and supporting documentation on some form. It’s a valuable benefit, especially for your grandchildren who later decide they want to join the society.
You want to build a network: The larger societies, such as National Society Colonial Dames of America, the Sons of the American Revolution, or the Society of Colonial Wars, have branches all over the country. It’s a built in “family”, connections that can prove key as you’re trying to establish yourself in a new location.
Also called a hereditary society, a lineage society is an organization that defines its membership by their relationship to an ancestor meeting a certain set of qualifications.
Most lineage societies are service organizations and believe that in uniting to honor their ancestors, they can make a difference today. Some are focused specifically on historic preservation and maintaining their ancestors’ legacy. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants states its mission statement as:
The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, GSMD, is committed to research on the lineal descent of the Mayflower Pilgrims and education about the Pilgrims who travelled aboard the Mayflower in 1620. The Society provides education and understanding of why the Mayflower Pilgrims were important, how they shaped western civilization, and what their 1620 voyage and its impact on the world means today.
Other societies have a wider mission. The Daughters of the American Revolution defines itself as ” a non-profit, non-political volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.”
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