Did your ancestors fight in the American Revolution 233 years ago? Thousands of men answered the call to arms in 1776. These thousands probably have many millions of descendants today. Many Americans can find a Revolutionary War veteran in the family tree if they expend a bit of time and effort. Luckily, there are a number of online and offline sources to help you in that search.
Finding Revolutionary ancestors isn’t much different than finding anyone else in your family tree. You always start with yourself and then work your way back, one generation at a time. You can search the online databases as well as the traditional resources, such as census records, vital records, and especially, Revolutionary War pension applications. However, you should be aware of several unique sources of records that contain information about Revolutionary War soldiers.
One excellent tutorial to read is "Finding Your Patriot: Basic Sources for Starting Revolutionary War Research" by Curt B. Witcher, available on Ancestry.com (without subscription) at: http://www.ancestry.com/library/view/news/articles/1561.asp.
Once you have learned the basics of Revolutionary War records, you will want to search the Lineage Books of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). In order to join the Society, members have to prove their descent from an ancestor who aided the American cause in the Revolutionary War. The DAR have spent hundreds of thousands of hours compiling Patriot Index lists of Revolutionary War ancestors of DAR members. The DAR Lineage Books are available online to Ancestry.com members at: http://www.ancestry.com/search/DB.aspx?dbid=3174. (This database is available to Ancestry.com paid subscribers; an Ancestry.com user ID and password are required.) The same information is available in printed DAR Lineage Books, available at most large genealogy libraries.
The DAR was founded in 1890. Early application papers supply the applicant’s maiden name, husband’s name, applicant’s birthplace (but not the birth date), parents’ names, chain of ancestors and their spouses leading back to the Revolutionary War, and discussion of patriot’s service and sources for his/her service. Note that the chain of ancestors is only from parent to child and does not show all children born to parents.
Later papers give much more information. In the chain of ancestors: birth, marriage, and death dates and places. In the applicant’s section: birth date and birthplace, marriage date, spouse’s information (name, birth date, birthplace, date of death or divorce). Space for multiple spouses is provided. The applicant must also supply data on the patriot’s marriages, children, and children’s spouses.
Keep in mind that the DAR Lineage Books contain the lineage of accepted members. While these books often provide great clues about the lineage of American patriots, the lineages they provide are often undocumented. As with any undocumented secondary source, all aspects should be documented with further research. Also remember that they do not list all the Revolutionary War soldiers. These books only list those who were identified as ancestors of DAR members.
More information about the many services of the Daughters of the American Revolution may be found at: http://www.dar.org. However, you will not find online databases at that site.
The records of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) are another great resource. Their records are available online and on CD-ROM. The online database has over 230,000 records of patriots whose gravesites have been located or whose service has been documented by a descendant who joined the Sons of the American Revolution.
The SAR online database provides information about Revolutionary War soldiers, sailors, and others, but does not provide information about their descendants. It is up to you to build a family tree in the traditional manner to prove your descent from the listed patriot.
NOTE: Much of the data was reported to the Revolutionary War Graves Committee without citing any primary documents as evidence of service. As with genealogy information found anywhere else, you need to independently verify the information provided.
To access the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution online database, go to http://www.rsar.org/rosters/findpatr.htm.
Finally, never overlook the best source of information: your family. Are you attending a family gathering this Fourth of July? If so, ask your relatives, especially your older relatives. They may know some family stories that you have not heard before. Keep in mind that many family stories have a mixture of truth and fiction interwoven in them, but they are always worth verifying. Who knows? Your aunt or uncle just may be able to provide a clue that helps you find information that previously eluded you.