Lineage societies have a bad reputation. Elitist. Snobbish. Some have even had to shake a reputation for racism. It’s easy to discount them as a way to climb our family trees. But if you think that all lineage societies are about promoting “I’m better than you because of my ancestors,” you should take another look.
It’s About the Ancestors, Not You
It isn’t about bragging rights. I’m not better — or worse — than you because of who my ancestors are. My ancestors are not better — or worse — than yours. That’s not what lineage societies are about. They’re about honoring our ancestors and recognizing their contribution to history.
Types of Lineage Societies
There are three main types of lineage societies:
- “Pioneer” or “First Families” programs, often sponsored by state and county genealogy societies, honor people who were early settlers of an area
- Military lineage societies honor ancestors who served in a war; the Daughters of the American Revolution is the most famous military lineage society
- A common trait, such as sailed on the same ship, have the same occupation, etc.; the Mayflower Society is one such organization
Why You Should Consider Joining a Lineage Society
1. It will improve your research
The documentation requirements for lineage societies, overall, have become more stringent in the past few years. Some societies, such as the DAR, won’t allow new applicants to “piggy back” on old applications because the older ones don’t have sufficient documentation.
There’s nothing like having to prove your descent from someone and prove what it is that ancestor did to qualify. I have an ancestor who qualifies for First Families of Ohio (resident in the state before 1821). However, there’s a link between two generations that, while I have a great circumstantial case, doesn’t have sufficient proof. But it’s making me look in new places — and that’s a good thing.
2. It will improve your documentation
“Grandma told me so” isn’t sufficient for most lineage societies nowadays. And that marriage which has a source citation of “Cousin Bob’s GEDCOM file”? Well, let’s just say that you’re going to have to track down a more credible source.
3. You’ll gain a fuller picture of your ancestor
I’m not referring to photographic evidence. What I mean is that you’ll have to look at a variety of sources. In doing so, you’ll learn things about your ancestors that you didn’t realize before. As I was putting together my application for the Society of Civil War Families of Ohio, I picked up details in a pension file that I had glossed over previously.
4. It’s a means of preservation
Most lineage societies keep the application and the supporting documents. That means that your research on that line would be compiled and preserved somewhere other than your computer. As I’ve mentioned before, lots of copies keeps stuff safe.
5. It’s a way to pay it forward
Most of us have made discoveries based upon the works of others. Maybe a family tree that someone put together gave you a clue on where to look for great-great-grandpa. Maybe you found an ancestor’s diary in an archive somewhere. Someone put together that tree and donated that old diary in the hope that someone else would find them meaningful and useful. We can do the same for future generations. By applying to a lineage society, we put that documentation in a place where others can use it and benefit from what we have discovered.
(If you’ve decided to do this and aren’t sure where to start, check out my 5 tips for applying to a lineage society.)
How About You?
Have you ever thought about applying to a lineage society? Why or why not? Have you ever applied to one? What was the process like for you? I’d love to hear your experiences!