Why You Should Consider Applying to a Lineage Society

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.

My great-great-grandfather Thomas Young is the man with the beard. I joined the Society of Civil War Families of Ohio based on his service in the 189th Ohio Infantry.

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!

Posted: June 4, 2015.

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  • I agree wholeheartedly! I’m working on my Settlers and Builders of Ohio application to honor my ancestors who were in Cincinnati as early as 1844. 🙂

      • Thank you! I should’ve mentioned earlier that I’m a newly approved member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and also a member of the Society of Civil War Families of Indiana and the Society of Indiana Pioneers. In doing a bit of Ohio research last evening, I realized that I’m an ancestor to an Ohioan who was married in Butler County, Ohio, in 1808! They are my 4th-great-grandparents, James A. Fowler and Elizabeth Devore! I’m about halfway through my FFO application now. 🙂 I’m still planning on submitting my SBO application for my Doyle ancestors in Cincinnati. Great post!!

        • Awesome! For FFO, they’ll accept the 1808 Ohio marriage record as proof of residency for both the bride and the groom. (I love one one document can prove two ancestors!)

        • Good for you I too am applying for the Daughters of the American Revolution how long did it take you to become approved. I live in Maryland so there are a lot of early settlers in this area.

    • I’ll look forward to reviewing your SBO application. I don’t have many so far (just two supplementals), so the sooner you get it in the sooner you’ll be approved and one worry off of your mind.

      Cheryl Brown Abernathy,
      Chair, Settlers and Builders of Ohio

    • Also, I feel oomplete now – not having much family as a child, I now know where and from whom I came. It’s been a thrill to find my unknown family. And I am honored to pay them tribute!

      • That’s one of the beautiful things about family history — feeling that connection to our past.

  • Such great points Amy! I’m wondering if one of my ancestors qualifies for the First Families of Ohio. I need to look into that. Thanks for your post!

        • Amy,

          I think I would qualify but I need to verify. An obituary for my 3rd great-grandfather printed in the Athens Messenger Newspaper on 4 Feb 1875 says in part “During the past week our vicinity has suffered by death, the loss of two of our most prominent and respected citizens, whose death requires something more than a mere passing notice. Asher Waterman was born in Duchess county, New York, in the year 1792, came to Ohio and settled in the neighborhood where he has always lived, Troy township, in the year 1810.” How cool is this?!

          • Thanks for including me in this week’s Fab Find! That’s very kind of you.

            When I was FFO chair, I wouldn’t have accepted just the obit as proof of residency, as you don’t know who wrote it or how accurate their knowledge was. I’d look at voter lists and tax records. Of course, there’s always the 1820 census. If he married in Ohio before the end of 1820, the marriage record would prove residency for both he and his wife.

    • Hi, Joe. I couldn’t find a lineage society for descendants of the Gallipoli campaign soldiers. However, I did find the Gallipoli Association, which is dedicated to studying the campaign and the men who participated. http://www.gallipoli-association.org/ They might know of a lineage society. Plus, it looks like their resources would be a good thing for a descendant to look into.

  • I understand the point because I had been told that I had a famous cousin, Susan B. Anthony. I can’t find enough documentation being a Canadian, unable to travel and not wanting to pay alot. I therefore am still working on “sources”. I googled and came up with a guy in Oklahoma who had put forth our family for a special honour as a Founding Family. He came back with “if you have an Uncle Brenton buried in a particular cemetary” then you are of the same family. This was my uncle! So I knew I was not wasting my time at least.

  • All I have to join the First Families of Ohio is a census record. My ancestors parents marry in Baltimore Co., MD and then the son is listed as being born in Ohio 1808-1810. He later comes back to Baltimore Co., MD and marries his cousin. Would this still qualify me? I have very little on his parents.

    • When I was chair of FFO several years ago, I would ask for several sources in a case like that. Perhaps a run of census records consistently showing him born in Ohio in that time frame. The key is to get records where he or someone with knowledge of the information would be the informant. You might want to contact the current FFO chair and get her input on what is currently acceptable; I’m sure the criteria has changed since I was chair!

      By the way, if you’ve proven his parents, can you find the father in the 1820 census for Ohio? It wouldn’t prove the mother or the child 9since they would just be tickmarks), but it would prove him.

  • I belong to many lineage groups: DAR, DFPA, DCW, CDA, CD XVIIC, DCH, USD1812, WDA&HA, ADEAW, LGAR, NSNEW, OCC, Colonial Clergy & Mayflower. For the reasons stated above, to preserve the lineage and improve my research. 2 of my Mayflower lines were ‘new’ from the point where the silver books stop. For Colonial Clergy, a new minister. I have proven 10 patriots for DAR, and 5 were new. I love doing the research.

    • Wow, that’s a lot of work you’ve done! Congratulations on being so successful with your research and your documentation!

  • My great grandpa Ebeneezer Battelle Lang was born in Newport, OH and both he and his brother fought for the Union during The Civil War. I have a copy of a picture from a Tulsa, OK newspaper where he is part of the last Civil War Vets.
    Do you know if there is a Chapter in Washington County?
    Unfortunately I’m pretty sure none of my families came to Ohio before the 1830’s.

  • Thank you for your wonderful story! When I was working on my DAR application, the patriot I hoped to go through had moved to Belmont Co, Ohio in the 1820-30s. I had a break in the line that stumped us so went through another patriot but continue to work this line. I still haven’t found what I need and haven’t been able to find the family on the founding families registry so it looks more and more everyday that I’ll have to write an analysis for a supplemental! However, your story is a great one that all should read!

  • Ah, now I can use your post to explain to my Mom why “we” would want to (as opposed to might be able to) apply to join the First Families of Ohio or other lineage societies (when I told her it looked like some of our ancestors might get us in, her response was, “oh, we don’t need that”. Me- “but, Mom, the library!” Thank you for sharing this. I’ve included your post in my Noteworthy Reads post for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/06/noteworthy-reads-17.html

  • Your posts often – as especially this one on “..Lineage Societies”… — are on “ideas” of which I’d never *think of* on my own. How can I “file” this on my computer & avoid trying to *print* it to place in a binder? Please forgive my limited tech understanding: I live too far from a Genealogy group to be around them – were I able to drive…that slows me down, too, thank you for your posts.

    • Hi, Annette! I’m so glad you like the posts! One way you can save them is to copy them into a Word document and save them. You could make one file for each post or out several posts into one document, whichever works best for you.

  • Thank you for your helpful posts on so many topics. As a member of DAR with 5 confirmed ancestors, I can add that it is still possible to prove an application using information from existing applications, IF the documentation is there. I have had the DAR research staff make notes on my applications with additional information. The main DAR library is a great resource and I believe anyone can visit. My chapter is certainly not stuffy, we do a lot of volunteer work in the community in education, literacy, food for the needy, and veterans programs.

  • I have been a member of DAR since 2009. I have proven 3 Patriot with 4th in review. Addition Patriot are not required. I feel proud of what I have done and it will be available for future “cousins”. On only have one line that I can use, so only a few more to prove. I have become our chapter Registrar and I am just as excited for new members as I am with mine

    • That’s awesome, Wendy! I know exactly what you mean about being excited for new members. I used to be the chair of First Families of Ohio and I loved approving applications. There were times when I found myself cheering for someone, “I hope they have enough documentation!”

  • Just a tiny correction: DAR will indeed allow an applicant to “piggyback” onto an old application that isn’t well documented IF the applicant supplements the documentation that was originally provided with additional documentation that meets current DAR genealogical standards.

    • True, if the new applicant has sufficient documentation, they will take it. At some point, it’s a very short piggyback ride 🙂

  • I enjoy reading your blogs and I do get the odd item that I can use to find my forebears, BUT all my fore families were in Scotland and a few in England. How about some tips for looking for people there and from there. Presently my brick wall is John Steele born around 1805 to 1820 had 2 sons in Leslie Fife in 1843 and1845, Cannot find anything on John the father,

  • I have spent hundreds of hours researching my patriot ancestors and proving my lineage to them, only to have the most unbelievable time trying to get someone from the SAR to help me. Months of following up just to try and submit my documentation, followed by months of runaround. I finally was able to join, but then never received my approved paperwork or membership certificate. Poor communication. Doesn’t seem like they are interested in new members. After receiving the runaround again, this time while trying to pay chapter dues, I terminated my membership. Terrible experience. The easiest part is documenting lineage, the difficult part is finding someone who cares.