Joining the Dames on an ancestor from Nantucket?

To join the Colonial Dames, you have to be descended from an ancestor that fulfilled a certain role or held a certain position. For two out of the three Dames societies, the roles and positions considered to make an ancestor “eligible” depend on the ancestor’s colony of residence. If your ancestor is from Nantucket, things are about to get complicated…

For most of Nantucket’s colonial history, it was part of Massachusetts.

But between 1664 and 1691, it was part of New York. (There’s a good outline of the history here.) If your ancestor’s qualifying service occurred during that period, it likely falls under the eligibility guidelines for New York, not Massachusetts. You need to be careful to ensure that it meets New York eligibility and to make the proper notations when doing application forms.

On the plus side, if the service is prior to 1674, you’ll also qualify for the Holland Dames.

Did Benjamin Graves die as a result of wounds sustained at the Battle of Groton Heights?

The Daughters of the American Revolution GRS System lists an unusual death entry for Benjamin Graves of Connecticut. It reads: “Death: 9-6- 1781 WOUND REC IN BATTLE.” In other words, according to previous applications to the Daughters of the American Revolution, Benjamin Graves died 6 September 1781 of wounds received in battle. 6 September 1781 was the date of the British attack on Groton, Connecticut and the Battle of Groton Heights.

Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park offers a list of those killed and wounded. Benjamin Graves is not listed on it. So how accurate is the DAR entry?

According to the entry, Graves was a militia private serving under “Capt. Holmes.” The Connecticut Church Record Abstracts indicate that he was baptized in East Haddam in August 1734. There’s no indication of his age at the time. If he were born in 1734 – unlikely given his sister was baptized at the beginning of 1735 – he would have been 47. That was in the possible age range for a militia private, who were generally only called up for short periods.

Who was Captain Holmes? It’s not entirely clear. Portions of the East Haddam town meeting minutes, which had appeared in the 1884 History of Middlesex County, have been transcribed to the website of the Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution. Those minutes do mention a Capt. Eliphat Holmes.

According to the pension file Captain Holmes filed in 1818, he resigned from the Army in 1780 due to ill health. He had been in command on the Continental Line, which would have placed him out in the field for long periods. Militia service, which placed him closer to home, may not have been entirely out of the question. It is unclear, however, why he would not have referenced it in his pension application.

Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the I. War of the Revolution lends credence to the argument that Captain Holmes was Eliphat Holmes. This work, which is used as a standard reference for documenting Connecticut Revolutionary War military service, includes a muster from 1776 for the Company of Captain Eliphat Holmes of East Haddam. Among those listed is Benjamin Graves. The description of the unit suggests a militia unit that could have been called up in periods of concern.

Was it called up in 1781 – and did Benjamin die during its service? The unit is not listed in Record of Service for 1781, but that in itself is not a surprise. Unless the militia was called out for long periods, the details were often not recorded. The East Haddam militia may have been at Groton Heights in 1781.

However, there are suggestions that Benjamin may not have been there. Ancestry‘s “Connecticut, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1609-1999” collection includes an estate administration for a Benjamin Graves dated 1777 and guardianship bonds for several Graves children dated 1778. Neither confirms Benjamin’s death in 1777. The administration papers, as they survive, may be a continuation of the estate of Benjamin Sr, who died in 1770. The guardianship bonds do not name the children’s father, leaving open the possibility that they are unconnected.

How would we discover more? We could start by ordering those early DAR applications to see how they documented Benjamin’s death.

What’s a “No Record Found” letter and why do I need one?

Most lineage societies have very specific requirements as to what documents need to be turned in for at least some generations. DAR generally requires birth, death, and marriage certificates for the applicant, parent and grandparent generations. Colonial Dames societies have similar guidelines. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants requires vital certificates or records for any period in which they might exist.

Unfortunately, just because the state had vital records doesn’t mean your ancestor filed them. Most states have a period in which filing was “sporadic” for a variety of reasons: lack of knowledge of the law, distance from the registrar, distrust of government, and more. You may also run into cases in which the record simply can’t be located. To show that you attempted to find the record, most societies will ask you to provide a “no record found” letter.

How do you get one? If you are requesting a vital record from a municipality or a state office, they will generally provide such a record automatically. If you would normally access the record from FamilySearch or a state archive, the state archive may be able to provide the letter for you.

A “no record found” letter does not excuse you from documenting the event, but it allows you to submit records other than those specifically required. Once you’ve obtained it, plan to look for church records, military files, newspaper notices, or other records that will provide the information you need.

How do I locate birth, death, and marriage records from Massachusetts for a lineage society application?

The Massachusetts State Archives has made the process of ordering vital records really easy. They have an excellent resource guide here.

If a vital record exists, it’s generally best to locate and order or otherwise obtain it. Be aware: you do not need a certified copy of a record unless you cannot locate a copy without certification. Be sure to start with the digital copy option. They are accepted by societies and easy to access, saving you time.

Can the census help with my Revolutionary War lineage society application?

This great question was posed at a recent program – and the answer is yes. Most genealogists use only the first page of the 1840 census population schedule. After all, that’s the page with the names of the head of household and most of the marks indicating who falls in the household falls into what age ranges. But there’s a second page to the form.

That second page includes the name and age of any Revolutionary War pensioner living in the household. That name may not always be the name of the veteran. Keep in mind, widows could receive the pension of their late husband. Yet, the presence of a name is a strong indicator that there’s a pension for someone in that family. Once you have a name, you can search the Revolutionary War era digitized pensions on Fold3 – and hopefully learn more about your ancestor’s story.