Lineage Societies – What Are They and How Do You Qualify?
Lineage societies are organizations in which members have a direct ancestor who meets the organization’s criteria. And that criteria runs the gamut from A to Z, including serving in the Revolutionary War, running a hostelry before July 4, 1776, signing the Declaration of Independence, fighting for the Confederacy, royal ancestry, early Texas settlers, militiamen who saw action in the Whiskey Rebellion, or men who served with Washington at Valley Forge.
Just “thinking” you qualify for membership doesn’t count, though, regardless of the generations of family stories about your Pilgrim ancestor. In order to join, you’ll need to thoroughly document your ancestry back to the qualifying individual. Although the amount of documentation varies by society, generally, proof is required for all places, dates and relationships. Acceptable sources for proving descent are primary records like birth, death and marriage records, as well as information located in deeds, census, probate, wills, bibles, and letters.
In some cases, it’s possible that another individual already joined the society under the same ancestor. If this is so, you can use their research and documentation to the point where your family lines split. For example, the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) will send you a copy of the application papers of active, deceased, resigned, or dropped DAR members for a small fee.
What Types of Lineage Societies Exist?
Lineage societies come in several flavors, but the most common are war societies, old world societies, regional societies, and those associated with colonization or early settlement.
In addition, a few religious and ethnic organizations do exist.
Membership qualifications vary per society; some are gender-specific, some require stringent documentation, and others are by invitation-only.
There are probably more war-related lineage societies than any other type. To qualify for membership, you must be directly descended from someone who served in a specific war, either as a soldier or in some other accepted category. The DAR, for instance, will allow members to join if they have a “patriot” ancestor; counted among patriots are clergy who gave patriotic sermons, civilians who offered material aid, signers of the Declaration of Independence, members of the military, or those who participated in the Boston Tea Party.
Both the DAR and their fellow organization, Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) have membership application and worksheet tips on their Web sites. Both are national organizations, with local chapters. Applicants are encouraged to contact local chapters for membership information and help in the application process.
Other war-related lineage societies like the General Society of the War of 1812, is limited to males who can prove lineal descent from any one who participated in the War of 1812. Qualified participants include regular army, navy and marines as well as privateers and members of the militia. If you believe you qualify for membership, refer to the society’s Web page on how to obtain War of 1812 military records. The site also contains links to other Web sites that list rosters of soldiers who served.
Qualified females can join the National Society, United States Daughters of 1812. NSUSD1812 membership eligibility has a far broader definition than its male counterpart does; to join you must have an ancestor who rendered civil or military service any time from 1784 to 1815, including those who participated in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
What’s the oldest war society? The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts–found in 1637 and chartered by Governor Winthrop in 1638. Qualifying members are those with ancestors who belonged to the organization between 1637 and 1737, or those who apply through a member-sponsor, stand before a membership committee and are accepted by vote.
What’s the lineage society with the strangest requirements? Undoubtedly, the Hereditary Order of the Descendants of the Loyalists and Patriots of the American Revolution. To join, you must be descended from both a loyalist and a patriot.
Old World Societies
Think Queen Elizabeth is your long-lost cousin? Then you may want to apply for membership in one of the Old World Societies. These are the organizations that require their members to trace the lineage of an immigrant ancestor until noble or royal ancestry is reached.
If you’re worried about descendancy out of wedlock, don’t. There’s even a society for the illegitimate sons and daughters of the kings of Britain!
One of the best-known Old World societies is the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the United States of America. The society, which was founded in 1939, is limited to members who can prove lineal descent from the Emperor Charlemagne. Two current members must propose potential members, and even after approval, membership is by invitation.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to trace your heritage back to the 13th century, you may qualify for the National Society Magna Charta Dames and Barons. These folks are descended from the 25 sureties (people directly involved) with the signing of the Magna Charta in 1215. Other qualifying ancestors are knights, barons, prelates or “other influential people” present on the field of Runnemede in June 1215 on behalf of the Charter.
You’ll find a two-part pedigree form on the Web site ; Part I will trace the line from you to your immigrant ancestors, Part II from the immigrant to the qualifying ancestor. You’ll need to contact the society for more information, as membership is by invitation only.
One of the best-known lineage societies in America was created by descendants of one of the Pilgrims who sailed in 1620 on the Mayflower. Are you one of the tens of millions who are descended from this small band? If so, print out a preliminary review form from the Mayflower Society’s Web site and send it to the appropriate state society (links are on the site). After review, you’ll be contacted about moving forward with a formal application.
Although the Mayflower Society is probably the best known–and possibly the most sought-after–it’s only one of several lineage societies that sprang up because of colonization. In general, the colonial societies require members to trace their lineage to someone who lived in one of the colonies before a specific date. For example, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America requires you have an ancestor who rendered “efficient service” during the colonial period.
Other colonial societies include those with ancestors in specific professions, like a colonial physician, governor, clergy, or tavern keeper.
In addition, there are locality-specific colonial societies like the Jamestowne Society. Although membership is by invitation, you can contact one of the “Companies” listed on the Web site for assistance in applying. The Jamestowne Society’s Web site also has a list of qualifying ancestors of one or more members. Application papers of those members are available for a $15 fee.
Another regional colonial society, The Society of the Ark and the Dove, was formed in 1910, for descendants of Sir George Calvert (the first Lord Baltimore) or the settlers who came with him to Maryland in the ships The Ark or The Dove in March of 1634.
Early Settler Societies
Early settler societies provide membership to those who can trace an ancestor to a specific locale before a specific date. Although a few of these societies are regional, like the National Society of New England Women, most are state-specific.
In general, these societies require an ancestor be living in an area before statehood–or in the case of New England Women, before the signing of the U.S. Constitution. To join the Sons and Daughters of Oregon Pioneers, for example, your ancestor had to be living in Oregon or Washington Territory prior to February 14, 1859.
For a period of time, I joined the Germanna Foundation, an organization of people whose ancestors were original settlers of the Germanna Colony. I very much enjoyed the newsletters and magazines; in addition, this society is active in creating several events. They’ve even created a video giving potential members an overview of the organization.
The oldest historical organization west of the Mississippi is the Society of California Pioneers, which was founded by people who came to California prior to the Gold Rush. If your family settled in the Golden State before January 1, 1850, you qualify for membership.
To find out if you qualify for any of the early settler or pioneer societies or certificates, do a Google search for name of state and pioneer certificate, i.e. ohio and “pioneer certificate”
Religious and Ethnic Societies
Only a handful of religious lineage societies are in existence, and of those, most are related to Huguenot ancestors. These include The Huguenot Society of America (for Huguenot families that immigrated to America before November 28, 1787), the Huguenot Society of South Carolina and the National Huguenot Society. Ethnic societies require members to be descended from a specific cultural group like Scots, Dutch, Swedish or English. Membership qualifications and proof of lineage are far less stringent than other types of societies.
Why Join Lineage Societies?
What are the perks of joining a lineage society? Well, some, like the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne will get you an invitation to a swank black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C. and the chance to wear a piece of pretty impressive members-only jewelry.
Other societies, like the DAR involve members in community outreach programs and educational projects.
Benefits of membership are wide-ranging.
Most of the larger societies publish monthly or quarterly magazines; smaller organizations keep members informed via newsletters or Web site announcements. A few organizations maintain their own library. Many have monthly meetings or, at the least, an annual event.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy host an annual convention, with tours to historic battlefields, cemeteries and homes. Members of the Society of Indiana Pioneers are treated to a spring pilgrimage to historic sites.
The most valuable benefit, however, is sharing your heritage with people of like-mind–and like ancestry.